If it looks like a patio umbrella, but gets cablecast, it's Crofton-compatible


The case of the satellite dish that might be a backyard patio umbrella is closed in Crofton, and the dish will stand.

The Crofton Civic Association's Architectural Review Committee has decided that Jeff Rimer's satellite dish looks so much like a patio umbrella that it fits right in with the neighborhood. The four-page decision ends a year-long dispute that split the Crofton Orchards section of the community, with some neighbors saying the dish must go, others saying it was not worth fighting about.

"Obviously, I'm happy," said Mr. Rimer, sports director for WBAL radio in Baltimore, who put up the dish last year so he could watch more sports on television. "I think [the controversy] forced people to choose sides, and although this is a pleasant place to live, it wasn't pleasant."

Committee members "did what we asked them to do," said Mr. Rimer's lawyer, Lauritz Helland, "to consider the aesthetic effect on the community."

Marie Curran, one of several neighbors who complained about the dish, declined to comment on the decision. Judy Voelske, who also objected to the dish, said, "As far as I'm concerned the subject is closed" and offered no further comment.

While finding that the dish is "in harmony" with its surroundings," the committee did cite Mr. Rimer for installing the dish without first submitting plans and seeking the committee's approval, as the community covenants require. By submitting plans this month, Mr. Rimer satisfied the requirement, the committee ruled. The panel also spelled out seven conditions Mr. Rimer has agreed to meet.

To the casual observer, Mr. Rimer's satellite dish looks like a patio umbrella, shading a table and chairs on the back deck of his home on Peartree Lane. If you look closely beneath the awning, though, you can see it's a piece of high-tech communications gear.

Apparently, several neighbors looked closely enough, and wrote the Crofton Civic Association last October to complain. In the Crofton Orchards section of Crofton, the covenants forbid satellite dishes unless they are in "harmony of external design and location" in relation to the surroundings.

The other subdivisions within Crofton ban satellite dishes altogether, regardless of their appearance.

Mr. Rimer and his lawyer -- who represents a national association of satellite dish owners -- argued their case on several grounds. They claimed that when the dish was put up, the developer of Crofton Orchards, not the Civic Association, held the authority to enforce the covenants. They also claimed infringement upon First Amendment rights and violation of Federal Communications Commission regulations.

And, they argued that the dish, made by a Palm Springs, Calif., company called Under Cover Satellite Systems, is unobtrusive in a suburban neighborhood.

Mr. Rimer said that's the reason he ordered the equipment from the California company, whose dishes cost about twice the price of a conventional model.

"I wanted something that would not be ugly," said Mr. Rimer. "I wanted to make sure it was harmonious with the community."

To keep the dish without further objections from the Civic Association, Mr. Rimer has agreed to meet seven conditions, which include keeping the dish in the back yard, planting some shrubs to screen the view of the dish from the street and adjoining yards, and not enlarging or raising the height of the dish.

The case cost Crofton about $1,500. Mr. Rimer would not disclose how much he spent on legal fees. He said he's glad to see the argument ended.

"I want to be able to put this whole thing behind us," he said.

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