Battle over Rodgers Forge landing comes to an end

After a year and a half of appeals and back-and-forth county administrative decisions, a contentious battle over a back porch in Rodgers Forge appears to be over.

The Baltimore County Board of Appeals in January ruled in favor of a Rodgers Forge woman who in the summer of 2011 built a landing at the bottom of her back steps that was too close to the property line.

"The landing was a misunderstanding, but gee, did they come after me," Christiane Rothbaum, the 67-year-old owner of the house at 300 Hopkins Road, said last week.

The saga began in June 2011 when Rothbaum sought permission to extend the roof over her back porch and enclose a portion of it off her kitchen. The enclosed portion would have allowed her to expand her kitchen and put a powder room on her first floor.

"My kitchen is small," she said last week. "I'm getting older. I thought it was a good idea."

She said the Rodgers Forge Community Association denied her request three times, so she sought a variance from the county, which was denied in June 2011.

A month later, she received permission to build the new porch with steps down to her enclosed backyard. Rothbaum said neighbors were unhappy with the decision and filed complaints with the county, leading to six visits from county inspectors as the work was being completed that September.

During one visit, an inspector took issue with a landing that was built at the bottom of the steps. Rothbaum said the decision to build the landing, which was not part of the initial plans and was built over an existing patio, was done at the suggestion of the builder.

Because the landing stretched past the property-line setback of 37 feet, 6 inches, Rothbaum received a citation and $1,000 fine, and a hearing was set for January 2012. The base of the landing was not completed due to the citation, though all that was left to be completed were the baseboards at the bottom step.

At the hearing, Administrative Law Judge Timothy Kotroco suspended the fine on the condition that Rothbaum receive a variance. He did not order her to tear down the landing.

Rothbaum filed for a variance in March 2012. In June 2012, Adminstrative Law Judge John Beverungen denied it, saying she didn't need one for the landing.

In September 2012, an inspector returned to the scene and issued a citation under a county code used to order "unsafe structures" to be removed.

Administrative Law Judge Lawrence Stahl upheld that citation, but Rothbaum and her attorney, Art Buist, challenged the ruling before the county Board of Appeals.

The appeals board ruled in January that the building code statute used in the September 2012 decision, which effectively deemed the structure unsafe, did not apply to the landing. Additionally, since neither the county nor Rothbaum appealed Kotroco's initial ruling — which only imposed a fine — the county was no longer entitled to order the structure to be removed.

Rothbaum received the appeals decision on Jan. 31, and no appeals were filed within a month, so the decision to leave the deck, steps and landing stands.

Stu Sirota, president of the Rodgers Forge Community Association, declined to comment on the issue.

But in a Towson Times article from June 2011 when the community association began to challenge Rothbaum's initial addition, several reasons were given for challenging the addition.

Jennifer Helfrich, then-president of the RFCA, said extending the home into the backyard could bring down surrounding property values. Members of the assosciation's architectural committee said the project could be a "slippery slope" for other similar additions to be approved, and that the building could alter the air and light quality in the neighborhood.

Rothbaum, who has owned her house since 1987, said the opposition also stemmed from when she received a variance in the early-2000s to enclose her front porch, something the neighborhood association also opposed.

Now that the decision is final, she said she is waiting for the county to return her $1,000 fine before the work is completed. That money is needed to finish paying the contractor, Rothbaum said.

Loni Ingraham contributed to this story.

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