Greenery proposed to buffer red shed

Walnut Springs residents seek county's assistance to block view of structure

Western Howard

August 02, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Walnut Springs residents are contemplating a way to defuse growing frustration over a brightly colored shed built by the man who developed their neighborhood: Hide it behind fast-growing, bushy trees.

People from the small western Howard County community met with government officials Wednesday night to discuss their options - which are limited - and to ask if the county will help pay for the green buffer.

The shed, built as a protest, is driving them crazy.

"We don't want to look at it," said homeowners association President David Dailey, who lives next door to the pinkish-red structure. "At least if you don't have to look at it, you're not reminded. I'm reminded every time I go outside."

The battle is not really between them and Charles W. Schroyer, 64, a retired contractor who subdivided his 107-acre Woodbine land in the early 1990s to create Walnut Springs. It's Schroyer vs. the county.

"We're scapegoats," said Jeff Brister, a Walnut Springs resident who held the meeting at his house.

Schroyer says the county cheated him out of a home lot on a hilly parcel in the middle of the neighborhood. County regulators disagree, so usual complaints were not getting him anywhere.

In May, hoping to compel officials to see things his way, Schroyer built the shed on the hilly plot - surrounded by expensive homes in muted tones in a community that he helped create.

Animals such as goats, chickens and pigs will be brought in as soon as Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. runs electricity to the site to power the well pump, he said. Workers are scheduled to start today, he added.

Saying he could do nothing else with his land, Schroyer sent residents a letter last year promising to bring in livestock unless they bought the lot for $70,000 or helped him persuade the county to allow a house there.

Neighbors lobbied officials, but to no avail.

"He's hoping to get us to badger them enough, but they're not going to change it," said Brister, who was one of the first to move into the neighborhood. "And I can understand their perspective."

Next, residents tried to find a way to get rid of the shed and keep farm animals from moving into their 21-house subdivision - also to no avail.

"There are some things he's allowed to do with the property," said County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, who was at the meeting. "It's frustrating for me to sit there and say, `I don't know if I can help.' I will do the best I can, but there are limits to what government can do."

Herman Charity, a chief aide to County Executive James N. Robey, promised at the meeting to look into a tree "partnership."

The next-door neighbors are interested in planting along their property lines, and the community would like a thick line of green along the front, in the county's right-of-way.

They're just starting to price trees, but residents are worried that it could easily cost $10,000, Brister said.

"We will do anything that we can legally do to help them out," Charity said yesterday.

A shroud of trees could take the teeth out of a protest that relies on being seen. But Schroyer, who was not at the meeting, said he is not upset.

"Why should it bother me?" he asked. "What they do on their property is their business."

His dispute with the county is several years in the making.

Schroyer envisioned at least 22 lots when he was planning the neighborhood, but the Health Department had a problem with the hilly one, holding up the project.

He said he was wrongly told that the only way to move things along was to preserve the parcel - and he insists the county never explained that preservation was permanent.

Once the problem on the lot was worked out, he said, he learned he was stuck.

"It's not the money: I want to complete the subdivision," said Schroyer, who lives in an out-of-the-way spot in the neighborhood.

"People say, `How can you do this?' Well, nothing else worked. Maybe this'll work. ... I don't give up when somebody steals something from me, and they stole it from me."

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the county's planning director, said that is not true. He insists he told Schroyer what was what and even advised him against preserving the land - sitting, as it does, between two lots in the neighborhood and across the street from two others.

Now Schroyer is frustrated that the county has sent him zoning violation notices - and recently a $250 fine - because inspectors consider his shed an "accessory use" without a "principal use" (farming).

"It's just simple harassment, that's all it is," Schroyer said.

Neighbors think the county could save everyone headaches by requiring that future preservation parcels in subdivisions are subject to the neighborhood's covenants. Schroyer's land is not; he excluded it.

"Nobody would have dreamed it would have come to this, but it has. ... Live and learn from mistakes," said Dailey, who talked to Rutter at the meeting about policy changes. "If you repeat your mistakes, then somebody's not doing their job."

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