- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
There ought to be a law, the St. Mary’s County commissioners believe, to give them more leeway to force repairs or demolition of dilapidated buildings.
They are correct, and the Maryland General Assembly should pass the law next winter that the commissioners are requesting.
The object is not to begin harassing property owners because the grass is too long or the front door is painted purple. The idea is to give the county government some authority — it has very little now — to deal with structures that are dangerously unsafe or that are undermining the property values of the surrounding community.
Before a county ordinance can be adopted to accomplish this the legislature must give the commissioners authority to do so. That is a simple first step and the legislators who represent St. Mary’s should shepherd it through Annapolis.
If that happens, then a proposed ordinance would be presented at public hearing in St. Mary’s; if people think the commissioners are trying to overstep what’s necessary and reasonable that will be the time to stop it.
Given the county government’s record, by this and previous county commissioners, of objecting to state rules impinging on property rights it is unlikely that local officials will overreach. In any case, if an ordinance is passed and enforced, the owner of any structure proclaimed a nuisance property could appeal to the St. Mary’s County Board of Appeals or to court.
So what would be defined as a nuisance property? Holes, fractures, extensive fire damage, sagging roofs or decks, peeling paint, graffiti and rust, the county attorney suggested recently. Vegetation that encroaches on public roads or sidewalks, trash, wrecked vehicles or infestations of vermin could also qualify.
Property owners would be given to time to clean up and make repairs. If they fail to do so, the county government could have the work done and place a lien on the property to pay for it.
The formal suggestion to give county government authority to do all this came from a property maintenance task force appointed by the county commissioners. That recommendation came a year ago and adoption of an actual ordinance is still likely at least a year away.
One impetus for it is the push to revitalize Lexington Park. Those who are in business there put their own money on the line, and the federal, state and county governments invested $6 million in a recently completed streetscaping project on Great Mills Road. But those efforts are hampered by derelict properties, often owned by people who don’t live in St. Mary’s County and who are immune to calls to fix up property for the betterment of the community.
In the end, this is not about the heavy hand of government encroaching on property rights. It is about protecting the property rights of others. Under current policy the county government can do little beyond order that an unsafe building be boarded up. Ask anyone who has lived or worked near a property like this; that doesn’t take care of the problem.