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Zoning Board OKs new rules on junk cars


County residents annoyed by their neighbors' junk cars will have a legal weapon under new regulations approved by the county Zoning Board last week.

County Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, voted 3-1 Thursday to remove language from zoning regulations that allowed storage of at least one unregistered vehicle on a residential lot.

The new regulations, which become final when signed in the next several weeks, will bring the rest of the county in line with junk-car prohibitions that exist in Columbia under property covenants.

The decision pleased Robert Bradford of the St. John's Lane Community Association in Ellicott City, which supported the regulation change.

"I believe that this is a good thing for residential areas to maintain the quality of the neighborhood," Mr. Bradford said.

"There are some people who do have cars in our neighborhood who just leave their cars on their property that are unsightly," he said. "Generally, what I see is the cars out there with grass and weeds growing all around them."

Councilman Darrel Drown, an Ellicott City Republican, proposed the regulation change, despite his wariness of legislation that creates new governmental restrictions.

"But this was clearly a case, on a countywide basis, where one person's decision was affecting another person's property values," he said.

Zoning authorities receive more complaints about junk cars than any other type of complaint. Mr. Drown, who had received complaints, proposed the regulation change in response to one particular case.

"The guy who finally decided to make me act was a guy who had a car sitting in his front yard in Mount Hebron for several years," Mr. Drown said. Now that car owner "will have six months to get rid of it or to fix it."

Within six months of the time the regulation is signed, property owners must remove any unregistered, inoperable or wrecked vehicle from their property, fix it or put it behind a barrier so that people on neighboring properties cannot see it. The new regulations do not exempt a junk car under a tarpaulin or car cover.

Current regulations allow one unregistered vehicle on lots of less than three acres, and two vehicles on larger lots, but do not say how the vehicles should be stored or what state of repair they must be in.

Several county residents said during a June 22 public hearing that they feared they would no longer be able to work on farm equipment, race cars or historic vehicles, and asked the board to come up with a definition of "junk" that did not include their vehicles.

The board, however, relied not upon members' aesthetic sensibilities, but on state transportation law.

The new zoning regulations adopted by the board exempt any vehicle considered under state law to be historic, defined as at least 20 years old and not substantially altered from its original design.

Also exempted are farm vehicles, defined under state law as those owned by a farmer and operated only on a farm or on an adjacent road.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a Republican representing the west county, was the only board member to vote against the new regulations.

"We have so many people, especially in the western end of the county, people who work on cars and their sons and daughters work on cars," Mr. Feaga said. "They don't always look great but that's part of America, and being able to do what you want to do."

Mr. Drown said the new regulations will let the director of planning and zoning issue exemptions for such projects.

"I'm not after antique people, I'm not after race car builders, I'm not after a pop and son who want to build a car, and I think there's enough leeway there so those people can continue their activities."

Mr. Drown said he had sought an exemption for people working on race cars as well, but that was not possible because state law does not define such vehicles.

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