Building permit panel to release findings

June 25, 2008|By Steven Stanek | Steven Stanek,Sun Reporter

A panel investigating erroneously issued building permits is expected to release its findings to Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold today, including a recommendation that applicants bear more responsibility for ensuring their project proposals are clear.

The Task Force for the Study of Erroneous Permit Approvals also asks Leopold to require applicants with revisions to submit original and changed drawings of their project, go through a second review by zoning officials and get a signature from the contractor. The report also suggests the county more frequently seek stop-work orders rather than revoke permits.

The group reviewed 10,000 building permits issued in 2007 and found just one that involved an error by a county official - the same case that prompted Leopold to form the panel.

That alone persuaded the committee to recommend requiring applicants to highlight any changes they make to their permits and sign a statement verifying that they have done so.

"We hope that it will prevent future mistakes," said Betty Dixon, task force chairwoman and the county's director of planning and zoning.

The task force also included a representative of the Anne Arundel County chapter of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland and three citizen representatives. Any changes it recommends will have to be approved by Leopold.

Leopold called for a review of the county's permitting practices in March after a Glen Burnie man was ordered to reduce the height of a $20,000 garage he had built on his property, even though the county had approved a permit for the job.

After neighbors complained that the structure was unsightly, county officials realized that John Getz's garage was in violation of county code because it was taller than his house.

County officials ordered Getz to pay for a 4-foot reduction in the height of the garage, and the Board of Appeals later upheld that decision, 6-0.

While accepting some responsibility for issuing the illegal permit, county officials also put the blame on Getz for not making clear a last-minute height change to his project. Dixon said the original application proposed a garage that was 16 feet high, as did a subsequent revision. Only on a third revision did Getz change the height of the structure to 19.6 feet, Dixon said.

"It was in the plans and we should have caught it, but he also should have told us he changed the height," said Dixon.

But Getz's contractor, Thomas W. James, said he had run several permits through the planning and zoning office and never had a problem.

"I think the county ought to pay for it," said James, adding that the reduction in height is "easier said than done" and could end up costing Getz close to $10,000.

"When somebody admits they're wrong, they ought to take responsibility for it, and in this case they're not," he said.

Upon launching the investigation, Leopold said in a statement that he was "frustrated" by Getz's case and hoped to provide "other legal remedies that would be helpful to citizens in these instances."

Yesterday, he called the changes "prudent" and "reasonable."

Dixon said the committee made no changes in Getz's case and would not disclose further details of the report.

Of the 10,000 building permits issued in 2007, she said, the committee found that 64 had been revoked, 45 of them for technical errors. Of the 19 remaining revoked permits, 11 were reissued, leaving eight outstanding revoked permits.

Of those eight revoked permits, one was a company that wanted to put up a sign in the airport fly zone but did not have airport approval. Another involved a resident who was trying to build a pier and did not have the necessary approval from a local homeowners' association.

Only Getz's permit was revoked after construction had begun.

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