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The Calvert County Board of County Commissioners approved text amendments to the property maintenance chapter of the county code that would expand enforcement on lots throughout the county for the accumulation of debris, filth, trash, abandoned vehicles, excessive weed growth and decayed vegetable matter, among other issues, this week.

Following a public hearing Tuesday at their weekly work session, the commissioners approved the changes in a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) holding onto what she called the “nostalgia vote.”

“Our community is changing, and as it changes, there are those people who moved to Calvert County and feel like they’re living in a suburban area, and then there are the people who still live on farms and acreage and want to have the lifestyle they’ve always had,” Shaw said Wednesday. “… We have to rely on the common sense of our enforcement people … there’s no easy way to distinguish between what I could call a trivial complaint and an egregious problem.”

Previously, the chapter permitted the Calvert County zoning enforcement staff to impose property maintenance on any lot in residentially zoned districts. The amendment deems it unlawful for the owner of any lot, tract or parcel located in the Residential, Rural Community, Rural Commercial and Farm and Forest districts, as well as all seven town centers, to permit any accumulation of debris, decayed vegetable matter, filth, dangerous trees, rubbish or trash, abandoned vehicles, refrigerators or other household articles.

After two residents expressed concern that the amendments would affect farm land by forcing the removal of farm equipment and could affect gardeners who use vegetable matter for compost, Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R) said the amendments are not “geared toward farming or gardening. It is geared toward those that have junk refrigerators or furniture laying in the yard. … [The enforcement staff] don’t come in like the Gestapo … they remove the junk cars and debris.”

“Our discretion would be on a case-by-case basis,” Christopher Breedlove, chief of the county’s zoning enforcement, told the commissioners Tuesday. “If compost is used for farming, that’s OK. This is for your dense, tight-knit communities who aren’t keeping up with their property. … We have to cover all areas.”

In addition, the amendments state that it is unlawful for the owner of any developed lot in those districts to permit any excessive growth of weeds or underbrush, or growth of noxious plant within 100 feet of any house, mobile home or other residence, whether occupied or unoccupied. The amendments define a developed lot as any man-made change to an improved or unimproved lot, tract or parcel, including buildings or other structures, grading paving, excavation and storage of materials.

“We had situations where right across the street in a different zoning district, we could not do the enforcement for, say, grass cutting,” Deputy Director and Zoning Officer of the Department of Community Planning and Building Mary Beth Cook, said to the commissioners. “We’re opening it up to other zoning districts in the county so that we can do equal enforcement in all zoning districts.”

After reviewing the amendments, Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said he believed he may be in violation because of natural growth on a steep hillside 20 feet from his house that he is unable to mow. Cook ensured Slaughenhoupt that any area that cannot be mowed because of safety reasons is not expected to be maintained.

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.

Shaw maintained her concern for residents becoming overzealous and complaining about properties they don’t like, whether it directly affects them.

“You’re gonna have complaints either way,” Nutter said at Tuesday’s meeting. “This is not the biggest issue in Calvert County … it’s common sense.”

In other business, the commissioners:

• Presented proclamations to Ronald “Steve” Gladhill, a bus driver, and students Dion Jones, Nigeria Jones, Tyler Latvala and Lawrence Moats for saving the life of a man the students saw lying face down in the snow while riding the bus March 7 to Calvert High School;

• Nominated Kathy O’Brien, a project coordinator with technology services for the county, as Employee of the Month and awarded her with a check and certificate;

• Awarded Diane Burr, Erin Dix, Lilian Lopez and Randi Vogt with proclamations recognizing their contributions that also were awarded by the Calvert County Commission for Women at the Women of the World luncheon March 15; and

• Declared April to be “Fair Housing Month,” as April 2014 marks the 46th anniversary of the passage of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, popularly called the “Fair Housing Act,” which outlaws any discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing because of race, color, familial status, religion, sex, physical/mental disability, marital status or national origin.

snewman@somdnews.com