Inside their Lutherville bungalow, Tim and Carol Ann Frost might be watching, at any given time, a Spanish talk show, the Winter Olympics -- in French -- or a debate in the British House of Commons.
The Frosts own a satellite dish -- a $4,000 electronic device that enables them to get nearly 250 television and radio channels from around the world. The 12-foot-high and 10-foot-wide dish has also gotten them into hot water with Baltimore County zoning officials.
The satellite dish currently is on the side and slightly to the back of the Frosts' home. The county has been trying to get them to move it either behind their home or onto their roof. It is threatening to fine them $200 a day if they fail to comply.
Mr. Frost, a computer expert, self-described "news junkie" and former U.S. Army criminal investigator, has fought back by filing an injunction in Circuit Court to block the county from fining him.
The reason is simple: If the Frosts move the dish -- either to the roof, or directly behind the house -- they'll lose reception, they said.
"I want to go before the judge," Mr. Frost said. "I want to talk to the judge."
A court date has not yet been scheduled. But, with the gusto of a private investigator, Mr. Frost has researched the law on satellite dishes and can produce a hefty stack of paperwork to prove it. He's acting as his own attorney.
He claims that before he bought the expensive dish, he asked Baltimore County zoning and building inspection officials if it would be OK to put the dish where it now sits.
After they were shown a diagram of his property, in the 1300 block of McPherson Court, and the proposed location of the dish, Mr. Frost said, those officials gave him the green light. That's because, they told him, Baltimore County zoning law allows satellite dishes in back yards, and his proposed location was, indeed, behind his house.
But, soon after the dish was installed in September 1989, three of the Frosts' neighbors complained.
They didn't like the looks of the huge, jet-black dish. Because the Frosts have a corner lot, and the satellite dish faces Othoridge Road, "It just hits you right in the face," said Terri Rauschenberg, who lives directly across from the Frosts.
"It really is a monstrosity and an eyesore," she said.
James Thompson, chief of the county's zoning inspection department, said that under the county code, satellite dishes are considered accessory structures, in the same category as sheds and pools.
As such, satellite dishes usually are allowed in back yards of homes, he said -- even if the location is to the side, but still behind, the house -- as is the Frosts'. However, Mr. Thompson said, a different zoning regulation applies to corner lots. That regulation requires accessory structures like the Frosts' satellite dish be placed in the back yard, away from the corner that fronts on the main road.
But Mr. Frost says he is right, that the dish can legally stay where it is. And he said he will fight to keep it there. He's offered to plant shrubbery around the dish to mitigate complaints about the alleged eyesore, but two of the neighbors who
complained originally are not satisfied with that offer.
So far, county zoning officials have ruled against the Frosts. The couple applied for a zoning variance to allow them to keep the dish where it is, but their request was denied by the zoning commissioner. The county Board of Appeals also denied their appeal.
"There seems to be this determination to get rid of the disk," said Mrs. Frost.
"I'm just disgusted with the whole situation," said Mr. Frost.
Mrs. Rauschenberg, who said she can't understand why the county is taking so long to make the Frosts comply with the law, is equally frustrated -- and determined.
"I really don't care if he gets good reception or not," said Mrs. Rauschenberg. "We're going to take it right to the end. We're not going to back down."
One of the neighbors who initially complained changed his mind after he found out that the Frosts could place the huge dish on their roof.
"If they put it on the roof, you'll be able to see it for miles," said John Trueschler, who lives down the street from the Frosts. "It'll be 10 times worse than it is now."