Balto. County Council to consider rules on in-law apartments

Effort to clarify rules on separate living quarters for relatives

July 31, 2011|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

Despite protests from some community groups, the Baltimore County Council is scheduled to vote Monday on an ordinance that would offer guidelines for add-on apartments which frequently serve as temporary, separate living quarters for relatives.

The issue arose, in part, over a Cockeysville couple's decision to convert their garage into an apartment for their adult son. A growing number of residents are using such spaces, known as "in-law apartments," to care for elderly or disabled relatives.

While community groups say they don't have much of a problem with the ordinance's intent, they would like more time to review it. In the past, the county has generally approved permits for such apartments if they were located within single-family homes, but required special hearings for units like garage apartments.

"Our concern is more with the accessory structure — not the in-law apartment in the house," said Teresa Moore, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council, at last week's council work session. "I think everybody agrees that it would be nice to be able to take care of somebody that needed extra help in the family."

The bill would restrict such apartments to immediate family members and establish requirements for kitchen and bathroom facilities once the relative departs the unit or the property is sold.

Some groups asked the council last week to postpone the vote.

The Falls Road Community Association has spent thousands of dollars in recent years fighting J. Gary and Barbara Mueller, the Cockeysville residents who remodeled their garage. Harold H. Burns Jr., the association's president, told the council last week that he believes the bill is a "good-faith effort," but that his group still has concerns.

Burns said the apartments are intended to be used for disabled or elderly relatives, but the bill does not impose such restrictions.

"This bill does not have any limitations," he said. "It's just 'family."

The association filed suit against the Muellers over a garage apartment that their son was living in. The Muellers had secured a permit to build a two-story garage on their nearly two-acre lot as an "office/loft accessory structure" with a utility sink. Later they improved it with two bathrooms, a kitchen and three more rooms.

Attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit also appeared before the council, generally supportive of the bill.

"It doesn't change the practice. It just eliminates a lot of people who are going through the wringer at this time," said Lawrence E. Schmidt, the Muellers' lawyer and a former county zoning commissioner.

Michael R. McCann, the community association's lawyer, added, "Although Larry and I are on different sides of the case, we both think the bill is a good idea. [But] as simple as this sounds, as well-intentioned as this sounds, there are some minor issues that need to be addressed."

Moore said the legislation has made positive aspects and could resolve past abuses. But members of the Valleys are concerned the bill would lead to more people building such units outside the home, and the guidelines on property line proximity are not clear, she said.

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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