On fences and neighbors

Anne Arundel: Covenant holders need really good reason to get exemptions from restrictions.

January 09, 2001

CROFTON CAN'T be too proud of its early covenants. The planned community started in the early 1960s as a gated neighborhood intent on segregation. Covenants helped enforce that system.

The gates have come down over the years and so have the racial barriers. Crofton's covenants these days are shameful only if you find cookie-cutter houses a sin. So when residents agree not to install certain doors or build forbidden structures, they should honor those agreements.

That is why the Crofton Civic Association seems well within its jurisdiction to challenge a fence that one of its covenant holders built on her property, in violation of her residential agreement.

Covenants should be enforced. It's inherently unfair to let one signer skirt the rules others have to follow.

But not so fast. Property owner Beate Kanamine said she built the fence to protect her disabled 6-year-old son. She says her son's hearing is impaired. If that's the case, she could have a fair-housing right to the fence, a rare exception to the residential restrictions.

Ms. Kanamine's opponents claim the child does not appear to have a hearing disability when he plays with other children.

That's the key fact in this spectacularly divisive dispute that has pitted neighbor against neighbor. People debate whether Ms. Kanamine really needs the fence for her child's safety or just wants an amenity others can't have.

The Crofton Civic Association's board of directors plans to take Ms. Kanamine to court if she refuses to remove the fence. They say that she didn't follow community guidelines when she erected the fence and that she remains in violation of her covenant.

First, however, the association should give her a chance to prove that the fence is a necessity for a disabled child and not a mere luxury it has every right to forbid.

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