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Property maintenance code might expand to more zoning districts


Staff writer

The county is moving forward with amendments to the county’s property maintenance code that would expand enforcement on lots throughout Calvert, increasing the number of cases.

On Tuesday, the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners discussed text amendments to the property maintenance chapter of the Calvert County Code that would expand enforcement on lots throughout the county for the accumulation of debris, filth, trash, abandoned vehicles and excessive weed growth, among other issues. The commissioners directed staff to return with clarification on some of the proposed changes.

“Thank you very much because this really is, it’s an ongoing nuisance where people call repeatedly because it is a neighborhood problem. It is affecting people’s property values,” Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said.

Currently, the chapter permits the Calvert County zoning enforcement staff to impose property maintenance on any lot in residentially zoned districts, such as the White Sands community. The amendments would expand enforcement areas to developed lots in Residential, Rural Community, Rural Commercial and Farm and Forest districts as well as all seven town centers.

Chief of the county’s zoning enforcement Christopher Breedlove said the reason staff modified the code to “any developed lot” is “because we have several lots where they’re just vacant — nothing’s being built on it. We’re not gonna make somebody cut the grass on a vacant lot.”

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) asked, “When you’re changing it from any lot to any developed lot, does that mean undeveloped lots will not be covered under this, and if that’s the case, does that mean a person who owns a lot that’s not developed could throw a lot of rubbish and trash and such on the lot and not be subject to this?”

Calvert County Community Planning and Building Deputy Director Mary Beth Cook said that wasn’t the intent, but “we could certainly change the wording.”

“Just do a double-check to make sure you’re not inadvertently creating a situation you didn’t mean to,” Slaughenhoupt said.

Shaw asked if a residue lot created during the subdivision of a property would be counted as a “developed lot.”

Calvert County Attorney John Norris said that would be a question for an official interpretation, and he and staff could work on clarifying the meaning of “developed lot.”

The proposed language, as of Tuesday’s work session, reads: “It shall be unlawful for the owner of any developed lot, tract or parcel located in a zoned Residential District, Rural Commercial District, Rural Commercial, Farm and Forest District, and any Town Center, to permit, within 100 feet of any house, mobile home or other residence whether occupied or unoccupied, any accumulation of debris, decayed vegetable matter, filth, dangerous trees, rubbish or trash, abandoned vehicles, refrigerators or other household articles, or any excessive growth of weeds or underbrush, or growth of noxious plants.”

The changes would result in “an increase in the number of enforcement cases for property maintenance, which will affect the workload of the Enforcement Staff.”

The code already gives property owners up to 30 days to abate the nuisance. If it isn’t abated within 30 days, the county may abate it.

“There are numerous, numerous houses, abandoned houses and abandoned trailers and things like that all around that would probably fall under a lot of this,” Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said. “The issue is, even if you cite the folks that own it, do they have the wherewithal to do anything about it, and when they don’t, do we move forward and expend county funds and put liens on the property going forward?”

Breedlove said the proposed changes are “going to allow us as a county to take these people to court to have the court make sanctions as opposed to the county going in and cleaning up the property.”

The changes to the Notice to Abate section of the chapter mirror the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance for enforcement, which consists of a written violation notice followed by a citation when the nuisance isn’t abated within 30 days. If the citation remains unresolved, the case would be sent to the Calvert County Attorney’s Office to schedule a court date in Calvert County District Court.

“It will take the burden off of the county to clean it … and put it back on the property owner. ... We still can, but it moves it toward the property owner’s responsibility and not the county’s,” Breedlove said.

Also during the work session discussion, Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R) asked if Breedlove could return for a discussion on “the difference between the way we [issue civil citations] now and a regular civil citation, which goes directly to district court and then they take care of all that business.”

In other business, the commissioners unanimously approved to close the public record and authorize a $150,000 budget adjustment in fiscal 2014 for the engineering phase of Pushaw Station Road improvements in Sunderland.