Rodgers Forge pair win 2nd challenge on corner-lot front

Community association plans to appeal ruling that allows addition on rowhouse

April 22, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

A Rodgers Forge couple came out on top yesterday in a legal battle hinging on what might seem a simple question: Where is the "front" of their house?

The decision yesterday by the Baltimore County Board of Appeals marked the second time that Brigid and Dave Wilder have prevailed in a challenge to their plans to enlarge their kitchen and add a porch to their end-of-group rowhouse - a project that a community association has said would threaten the architectural and aesthetic integrity of the neighborhood.

The Rodgers Forge Community Association says that what the Wilders consider their side yard is their back yard, meaning the project wouldn't meet the county's set-back requirements. But the Wilders have said that their mailing address may be on Murdock Road, but the front door of their home is around the corner, facing Pinehurst Road.

During public deliberations yesterday, board Chairman Lawrence M. Stahl said the neighborhood group "has done an excellent job of keeping Rodgers Forge a neighborhood people want to move into."

However, he and the two other board members deliberating the case, John P. Quinn and Edward W. Crizer Jr., said they agreed with a zoning commissioner's previous ruling in favor of the Wilders.

The Wilders' lawyer, Justin J. King, said he hoped the board's decision would bring an end to the case, which began a year and a half ago. Brigid Wilder said, "I would hope for the residents of Rodgers Forge whose dues are paying for this that it's the end."

But it appears the board's decision is only the latest episode in what has become a neighborhood drama that prompted a zoning official to mention Shakespeare and Abbott and Costello in his written opinion. The community association will appeal the decision to the county's Circuit Court, according to its lawyer.

"It's never been a personal thing," said J. Carroll Holzer, the lawyer representing the neighborhood group. "It's not whether they're nice people or whether their addition will be pretty. The point is that this case can have a precedent-setting effect, not just for corner lots in Rodgers Forge but in other neighborhoods with similar issues."

The dispute began just as contractors were laying the foundation for the Wilders' one-story, 13-by-13-foot kitchen addition and an adjacent 9-by-13-foot covered porch in October 2003. Although the couple, who have three children, had the required building permit, the county ordered the Wilders to stop work on the addition, based on a neighbor's complaint that the construction appeared to violate the county's set-back requirements for back yards.

The case went to Lawrence E. Schmidt, then the county's zoning commissioner, who alluded to the classic "Who's on first?" comedy routine, writing that determining the location of the front of the house was "more convoluted than determining the identity of the players on Abbott's team."

But he also wrote that, "A rose by any other name is still a rose," and ruled last April in favor of the Wilders.

The community association then asked the Board of Appeals to review the case. Once the board issues its written opinion, the association has 30 days to file an appeal.

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