Rodgers Forge enters into debate on house front

Family planning addition challenged by neighbors

Forge residents in battle over home front

December 31, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

With three daughters often jockeying for space in their galley-style kitchen and school projects spilling over into the formal dining room, Brigid and Dave Wilder wanted to build an addition on the side of their Rodgers Forge rowhouse.

Trouble is, the community association says that what the Wilders consider their side yard is the back yard. And, although the proposed kitchen expansion would fit just fine with the county's requirements for setbacks on the side of a house, it would leave too little open space in a rear yard.

What's more, community association leaders say, such an addition threatens the architectural and aesthetic integrity of the Forge, as the venerable neighborhood near Towson is known, endangering a uniform layout carefully crafted in 1923 by a Baltimore developer intent on building a better rowhouse.

The dispute has spawned a protracted legal battle that has neighbors stalking their streets in search of houses to photograph that might strengthen their respective arguments.

It prompted a written decision from the Baltimore County zoning commissioner, who ruled in the Wilders' favor, finding that the front of their end-of-group home is on Pinehurst Road, not the road of their street address.

And, in a moment reminiscent of the final courtroom scene in the Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, the Wilders' lawyer produced during a recent hearing before the county Board of Appeals a short stack of mail addressed to the Wilders on Murdock Road.

"In addition to these items, do you ever receive the Rodgers Forge newsletter?" attorney Justin J. King asked.

"Yes, I do," Brigid Wilder said of the community association's monthly communique. With satisfaction, she added, "It is delivered to my front door - on Pinehurst Road."

The delivery of duffel bag after duffel bag of mail addressed to Santa Claus was enough to persuade the New York judge in Miracle on 34th Street that the man on trial really was Kriss Kringle and should not be institutionalized as insane.

King's presentation did not instantly sway the three men of Baltimore County's Board of Appeals. "I don't think you have to belabor this point," board Chairman Larry S. Wescott told King. "We know that they use the front door and deliveries are made there and everyone comes through the Pinehurst door, which they consider their front door."

After a full day of testimony - mostly from the Wilders and their supporters from the neighborhood - the hearing is scheduled to continue in February. After that, the board will schedule a public deliberation and then issue a written decision.

Brigid and Charles Davis "Dave" Wilder bought the three-story house at Murdock and Pinehurst roads in July 2002.

Dave Wilder, 46, is an environmental engineer. Brigid Wilder, 45, grew up in Rodgers Forge and is a private tutor with Baltimore County schools.

With five bedrooms and about 1,670 square feet of space, their brick Colonial Revival house is one of the largest of the Forge's 1,777 rowhouses. An end-of-group unit, the house is turned 90 degrees from the other homes in its row, according to architect Warren G. Nagey, who has testified as an expert in the Wilders' case.

At the Pinehurst Road entrance are a mailbox, a doorbell, an ornamental light, a welcome sign and a lamppost along the walkway that stretches to the sidewalk.

In addition, everything about the design of the Wilders' home - from its foyer and center hall to the doorway centered between two bay windows - "dictates" that its front faces Pinehurst Road, Nagey testified at the board of appeals hearing this month. "I don't know how you can say otherwise," he said.

Hoping to enlarge their kitchen and create a space conducive to casual dining and family projects, the Wilders hired a contractor in the summer of last year to build a $50,000 addition. The project was to include a one-story, 13-by-13-foot kitchen addition and an adjacent 9-by-13-foot covered porch. They obtained a building permit and bought new cabinetry and appliances.

But in October last year, as the mason was finishing the foundation, a county official came by to report that a community member had complained about the project. The next morning, the county halted work on the Wilders' addition.

The county's official reason was that the building permit application contained "false and misleading information" in indicating that the front of the house faces Pinehurst Road.

Leaders of the Rodgers Forge Community Association and the handful of residents who have officially opposed the Wilders' proposal make no apologies for their resistance.

"One of the reasons Rodgers Forge has maintained and in fact exceeded the change in the price of home sales is because it has this uniform appearance to it," said Renee Rees, president of the community association. "People are not allowed to make additions and other exterior changes to their homes just as each new homeowner comes into the community and would like to do whatever they want to their house."

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