- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
St. Mary’s County government has little ability to deal with rundown or blighted properties. The county can order a property owner to board up an abandoned house, but can’t order the owner to make repairs.
Two gas stations at the intersection of Chancellor’s Run and Great Mills roads sat abandoned for more than 10 years. One is gone because a private developer bought it and tore it down, but the other remains — with a sign advertising gasoline for $1.63 a gallon. There are several other blighted buildings in St. Mary’s that the county can’t do anything about.
The county commissioners, on a recommendation from a task force last year, are seeking more authority to deal with nuisance structures from Maryland lawmakers in the upcoming session.
On Tuesday evening, the commissioners met with Southern Maryland lawmakers where Sen. Roy Dyson (D-St. Mary’s, Calvert, Charles) raised some concerns with the measure.
Of the 11 legislative proposals from the county, the property maintenance authority requested was the only one “that I’m really concerned about,” Dyson said.
The state senator said after flooding from Hurricane Irene last year, the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management posted two properties across from his local office in Great Mills as uninhabitable and the owner took them down, so the county has some ability to deal with properties when it comes to public health and safety.
“What are we talking about here?” he asked.
County Attorney George Sparling cited an abandoned house on Midway Drive in the Patuxent Park neighborhood in Lexington Park that remained in that state for years. The owner lived out of state and, “We had no legal basis to move against that property,” he said.
The property maintenance ordinance would establish definitions of a nuisance property that would significantly depreciate the economic value of properties in the neighborhood or found to be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare or morals of neighbors.
St. Mary’s County government is asking for the authority to determine a nuisance property and order the owner to make the necessary repairs. If the work is not done, the county would have the ability to do it and then place a lien on the property. Charles County already has the ability to do so.
The ordinance would not consider the height of uncut grass or the paint color of a property, Sparling said.
“Where do you draw the line?” Dyson asked.
Sparling said the county is “just looking for authority for extreme cases.”
He said of the house in Patuxent Park, “it was a fire hazard. It was a serious situation,” with children playing nearby.
“I know in talking with the county commissioners, this is not a matter to be taken lightly,” he said.
“The county does just need a little bit of leeway to make the county a better place to live,” said Commission President Jack Russell (D).
Del. John F. Wood Jr. (D-St. Mary’s, Charles) noted a partially burned house at the intersection of North Sandgates Road and Three Notch Road that stood for years. “It was the biggest eyesore up and down the road and nothing could be done about it,” he said.
If the General Assembly approves the authority for the county, a local property maintenance ordinance would be created, and go through public hearings.