Crofton homeowners firm in opposition to compromise over neighbor's fence

Front-yard structure decried as a violation of community covenant

March 14, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Concerned their elected officials will give in to a neighbor who has made a federal case over her right to have a front-yard fence, some Crofton residents are railing against any kind of compromise - even if that means costly litigation.

Neighbors hoped for an inkling of the Crofton Civic Association's plans and timetable regarding the matter at Monday's CCA meeting. Word of a deal that would keep the wooden fence up for two years had rippled through The Willows subdivision, where Beate Kanamine built the fence - in violation of neighborhood covenants - in August.

Sources familiar with the matter confirmed that a proposal was on the table to allow Kanamine to keep the fence up until October 2002, after which time it would be torn down at her expense. If the matter went to litigation, it is unlikely the parties would see a trial date by that time.

But those familiar with the negotiations said the association will not accept the proposal.

No settlement

The CCA's Covenant Review Committee was expected to announce its recommendation for the fence at Monday's meeting, but did not do so. Except to announce that no settlement had been reached, board members were quiet about the matter on the advice of their attorneys.

"What can I say, except we take it very seriously?" said Laurie Torene, chairwoman of the review committee. "We are all interested in maintaining the community as it is. ... You have to trust that we're acting responsibly, in everyone's interest."

Kanamine has said she built the fence to prevent her hearing-impaired son, David Christopher, 5, from running into the street. Neighbors say that David is not disabled, and contend that the fence was built for aesthetic reasons.

"There is not one person in the neighborhood who even remotely thinks the fence is there for Christopher's protection," said Alicia Lobo, a Willows resident who attended the meeting.

Lobo said she was concerned about a deal with Kanamine because her neighbor had not been honest about her reasons for wanting the fence. "My concern is, how can we trust the information that's been handed to us now?"

Reached at her home yesterday, Kanamine said her neighbors were the ones who hadn't been honest.

"I have never done anything against the law. I think nobody in a good frame of mind could ever imply that I didn't make an attempt to follow the rules. I did that."

Kanamine said she has spent "quite a bit" of money on lawyers over the fence issue, and said she was surprised that an agreement had not been reached.

Although Kanamine had asked for an exemption to the covenant rules before building the fence, she did not receive one. She contended that permission to build the fence was implied, because the review committee didn't respond to her request within 60 days, as the covenant specifies. Committee members contend they did respond - they referred the matter to the CCA, which denied her request in September.

Last month, the review committee heard Kanamine's appeal of that decision.

Federal complaint

Complicating matters further is the complaint Kanamine filed in October with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, contending that the neighborhood covenants violate the Fair Housing Act. A HUD spokeswoman declined to comment on the status of the complaint.

Even though the legal wrangling could last years if it goes through the courts, Willows resident B. J. Loftis said she would rather wait than settle - and presented the board with a pile of letters from neighbors who share her sentiment.

"If you grant a waiver for the fence ... you are clearly opening Pandora's box," Loftis said. "You are clearly sending the message that it is better to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission."

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