Fence dispute still in place for community

Woman did not remove enclosure by deadline

Violates area covenants

Homeowner says concern for son's safety is motive

October 21, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Crofton residents - who spent their summer consumed with the northern snakehead fish that invaded a local pond - haven't been talking much lately about the lone front-yard fence one neighbor built in violation of the community's rules.

Now, the fence is again on the minds of the Crofton Civic Association, the community's governing body.

Under an agreement the association said it reached with homeowner Beate Kanamine last year, the fence was supposed to be taken down Oct. 1. It wasn't.

The association's board met in closed session last week to discuss its options.

Last year, the association spent much of the $6,000 it had budgeted for covenant enforcement on the Kanamine case. Board Vice President Martin Simon said the board might have to spend more because the agreement wasn't enforced.

"Once again, she's chosen to thumb her nose at the community and the association," Simon said of Kanamine. "There is no legitimate need for the fence now, if in fact there ever was one."

Kanamine sees the matter differently. She said she built the wooden picket fence that encloses her front yard in 2000 to keep her hearing-impaired son, who was then 5, from running into the street.

"I have always felt disappointed in some of my neighbors. I could not understand their heartlessness and their inability to understand a mother's desire to protect her child," she said. "The city of Crofton should think very long and hard about who they're coming after."

Kanamine knew that front-yard fences were against Crofton's covenants.

In April 2000, she asked the board's covenant committee for permission to build the fence. She said that when the committee took no action in 60 days, as the covenants require, she assumed she had the go-ahead.

The committee said it did take action - it referred the matter to the association's board, which denied her request after the fence was built in September 2000.

In response, Kanamine filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, saying the covenants violated the Fair Housing Act.

In May last year, attorneys for Kanamine and the association announced an agreement that Kanamine would drop all housing discrimination complaints and take the fence down, at her expense, by the beginning of this month. She originally had asked to keep the fence for five years, until her son turned 10.

But just after the settlement was announced, Kanamine learned that the Maryland Commission on Human Relations, which was investigating on behalf of HUD, had found "probable cause" of discrimination. Emboldened by the finding, Kanamine said she wanted to keep the fence up as long as her son needs it.

Neighbors who questioned whether the boy ever needed the fence have bristled at Kanamine's decision to paint it white and decorate it for holidays.

Some have speculated that she only wanted the fence because, as the neighborhood model home, it had one around it when she bought it.

The fence around the model home was allowed because it was used to route people around the house. It was taken down when the house was sold.

At board meetings about the case, neighbors showed pictures of the boy playing unsupervised in the street after the fence was built, while others contended that he isn't disabled. Kanamine, who showed the board her son's hearing tests, says she is appalled at such suggestions.

The question of what to do may be moot because Kanamine's five-bedroom Middle Bridge Court home is on the market, with an asking price of $459,000.

Coldwell Banker associate broker George Turner, who is listing the home, said that it's a reasonable price and that there is one offer on the table.

If the Kanamines get the asking price, Turner said, they'll pay to have the fence removed - which Crofton leaders say will cost about $500. Otherwise, he said, it would be a point of negotiation.

"We don't want the new buyers to take on any responsibility with respect to legal issues between the seller and the community association," Turner said. "When we sell the house, we're going to remove the fence in the front yard."

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