Council increases fines for builders

City's leaders seeking to discourage developers from repeat violations


July 14, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Annapolis has joined Anne Arundel County in raising fines for repeat violations of development laws.

The new law, passed by the city council Monday night, raises fines from between $100 and $500 to $1,000 for repeat offenses. City leaders said they hope the increases will deter those who were willing to absorb smaller fines to finish their illegal projects.

"Homeowners and contractors absorb fines as the cost of doing business, and right now $200 is pocket change compared to the cost of housing," said Alderman Josh Cohen, who proposed the amendment to city code.

The increased fines will apply to illegal waterfront construction, grading violations, unapproved removal of trees, building without a permit and zoning violations.

Cohen said he was inspired by the County Council's recent approval of higher fines for land-use violations.

The county penalty for illegal grading in the Chesapeake Bay critical area will increase from $500 to $5,000 beginning Aug. 9.

The penalties for building a pier or bulkhead without a permit and continuing work in defiance of a stop order also will increase from $500 to $5,000. The fines for repeat offenses will rise from $1,000 to $10,000.

"The city should learn from the county's experience that in many cases a $200 or $500 fine is simply inadequate, and take this opportunity to put more teeth into our enforcement," Cohen said Monday before his amendment was passed.

County and city officials say they're worried that some people see fines as an acceptable cost of building in environmentally protected areas near the Chesapeake Bay.

In most cases, that means homeowners adding a deck or pier without permission. But in one well-publicized case, Baltimore-area car dealer Scott Donahoo built a house in Pasadena knowing that he did not have a permit and had been issued a stop-work order. He paid $2,100 in fines, and the county recently filed suit in Circuit Court, asking a judge to order the house demolished.

Larger-scale builders and developers have not opposed the increased fines because, they say, they are not the ones committing violations.

Unlike the county's increases, the new city fines would apply only to repeat offenses.

"It is one thing for a homeowner to be unaware of the law," Cohen said. "It is another thing for a professional contractor to knowingly and repeatedly violate the law."

Sun staff writer Jamie Stiehm contributed to this article.

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