Copper roof tests Homeland's mettle

Association demanded slate on garage, spurring lawsuit by homeowner

October 30, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

One thing all agree on is that Louise T. Keelty's new shiny copper roof stands out in the city's Homeland neighborhood, a North Baltimore enclave of brick, stone and English Tudor homes where building projects are rarely rushed.

In a community where every change - even to stone garages or covered porches - is subject to the review of the Homeland Association's Architecture Committee, no one remembers the kind of high pitch reached this month over Keelty's expansion.

Targeting the community of nearly 1,000 homes, Keelty, a real estate lawyer who has lived on Enfield Road since 1990, took her quarrel with the Homeland Association public. She told neighbors in a letter Oct. 3 that her troubles had cost $70,000 in legal fees.

She invited them to look at the divisive project and called for a more inclusive leadership in the association, to which all residents of Homeland belong and pay yearly dues.

Gary Castanino, elected Homeland Association president for a term beginning in January, , said he hopes to fix a "perception problem" that the association relies too much on personal taste to enforce bylaws. The president customarily chooses the Architecture Committee's chairman, who recruits volunteers to serve on the committee.

"This is a bit of a tempest in a teapot, but I'd like to recruit a broader group to participate," Castanino said. "With more community spirit and common sense, we can change some things collectively and make the government more open."

For some, the case illustrates the narrow margins of home improvement projects in this roughly 400-acre city neighborhood, mapped in the 1920s by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed New York's Central Park.

For others, it showed how the community retains its charm. "Homeland's a beautiful neighborhood because of its vigilance," said Alfred W. Barry III, a planning consultant and a resident of the community. The neighborhood is roughly bordered by Boxhill Lane, Charles Street, and Melrose, Bellona and Homeland avenues.

Keelty first presented drawings and documents - for a new garage and a large "gathering room" with bay windows - to the board in April last year, she said.

A June 20, 2000, reply from Noni Rondeau, chair of the 12-member Architecture Committee, dictated that slate - not copper - was to be used on the garage roof and that Hardi-Plank, a woodlike material, was disapproved for the siding.

"We couldn't concede the Hardi-Plank," Angus Everton, the departing association president, said in an interview.

Keelty then sued the association.

"I was absolutely dumbfounded anyone would take that course of action," said Rondeau. "We tried to meet with the individual to come to a resolution everyone could live with. Court was the last thing on my mind."

Everton said a compromise was reached in recent months between Keelty and the association shortly before a trial.

"We owe it to the community to enforce these covenants," Everton said of the legally binding bylaws that have always governed Homeland residents as part of their property deed.

The architectural standards generally call for "traditional" paint colors and for building materials to match those of original structures. They also forbid chain-link fences and asphalt roof shingles.

Keelty agreed to use stone instead of Hardi-Plank on her garage but stuck to her plan - and that of architect David H. Gleason - to have a copper roof on the new garage, best seen from the back alley and receiving mixed reviews from neighbors.

Keelty prevailed on the point that standing seam copper is allowed under the rules.

But even with the project nearly finished - close to the original plans - Keelty feels the sting of the struggle. "What it cost me to get there is not just money," she said. "I was hurt and horrified."

Everton expressed regret at Keelty's costs and the resulting rancor. "I'd like to hold out an olive branch to Louise Keelty," he said.

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