Ray Dotson saw Columbia's restrictive property covenants as an "insurance policy" against declining property values when he moved to the area from Colorado last year. Now, he doubts whether they can be enforced.
Ever since Mr. Dotson, 45, moved into his house on Flowertuft Court in June 1993, he has been trying without success to get Wilde Lake Village officials to clean up the weed-choked lot next to his house.
"There's no doubt the handling of that lot has not been satisfactory, indeed that it's been terrible," said Mr. Dotson, chief of the microbiology section at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. "My overall objection is that Wilde Lake did not seriously and sincerely pursue this issue in a timely fashion."
Mr. Dotson's complaints have been echoed by Columbia Council members and other residents who fear that the enforcement process is cumbersome and lacks teeth.
Covenant violations are becoming more prevalent, and fewer homeowners are applying for permission to make exterior alterations to their properties, they say.
"You're preaching to an already-convinced choir about being more aggressive in covenant enforcement," Councilman Michael Rethman told Mr. Dotson after he complained at a council meeting last week about 3-foot high grass and weeds, piles of yard waste and trash, and rodent and insect infestation next to his home.
Last fall, and again in the spring, the Wilde Lake Community Association notified John H. Weidemeyer, the owner of the lot, that it violates local standards. But Mr. Weidemeyer, who lives in Port Richey, Fla., has not cleaned up the lot.
This month, Wilde Lake officials referred the case to the Columbia Association Architectural Committee, which will consider taking legal action.
That might be inevitable, said Bernard Goldberg, an agent with Area Realty who is trying to sell the property for Mr. Weidemeyer.
But selling the property may be difficult. Last fall, the architectural committee denied the company's proposal to build a house on the lot.
Much of the property is in a flood plain, explained Karen Wallace, committee chairwoman.
In addition, the house would have been smaller than the others in the neighborhood and would have been built too close to the street and Mr. Dotson's property.
Mr. Goldberg argued that the committee had denied Mr. Weidemeyer any use of the property and said his client wouldn't comply with the regulations.
"If they don't like it, sue us," he said. "When we get in court, we'll find out whether or not they control us."
Mr. Weidemeyer, 78, said he is not familiar with the Wilde Lake property covenants and has seen the residential lot, which he bought at a foreclosure auction, only once or twice since 1989.
"I bought it as an investment. It was a nice-looking lot," he said.
Mr. Weidemeyer lived in Woodlawn and was a building equipment supplier before retiring to Florida
about eight years ago. He said Mr. Goldberg is taking care of the property for him.
Mr. Dotson said he was discouraged that Wilde Lake officials didn't pursue a case against Mr. Weidemeyer last fall because the growing season had ended.
The overgrown vegetation harbored mice over the winter, he said. The enforcement process was too slow again this spring, he said, adding that he was "irate" when the Columbia Association Architectural Committee, at its July 11 meeting, tabled the case for three weeks.
"I already lost a year. I have no patience for anyone else ineptly handling this because I have to live next to this," Mr. Dotson said. "I've got promises all over. What I want to see is something done."
Ms. Wallace said the Wilde Lake Architectural Committee must follow a procedure that takes time and can be frustrating to complainants. Village officials didn't fail Mr. Dotson, she said.
"There's only so much we can do," she said. "We can't charge in and remedy the situation."