A developer and a builder appealed a stop-work order Monday to the Sykesville Planning Commission.
Neither has been able to work on the 36-unit housing project near Second Avenue since June 9, when Sykesville issued the order.
Michael Reeves, consultant for developer Henry L. Blevins Inc., cried foul. Rob Dorsey Jr., builder of the Honey Hill subdivision, apologized and promised to adhere to approved plans.
"For a developer or builder to do something without a permit and not on the town plans is illegal," said Michael Rice, chairman of the town Planning Commission. "You were putting something in ahead of time, based on plans that were not approved. If you want bigger houses and a greater setback, you are changing the character of the neighborhood."
Without a permit, Mr. Dorsey dug two holes that, if used for foundations, would have been for houses larger than permitted on the lots. But the builder told the commission that the holes were not planned for foundations.
He also removed eight mature trees in a woodland protection area and diverted a drainage ditch.
Bill Oler discovered the violations during a routine building inspection for the town. The project has been in planning stages for several years.
"It was in the town's best interest to stop work until we could get a grip on the situation," said Town Manager Matthew H. Candland.
The commission was particularly concerned about the destruction of the trees.
"We are not going to sit by and watch this stuff happen, because your new homeowners are unhappy with the number of trees," Mr. Rice said. "People on nearby Second Avenue wanted that buffer of trees."
The discussion was frequently heated and confrontational. Mr. Reeves placed all the blame on Mr. Dorsey, a partner in Dorsey Family Homes.
"You said I was in violation of a storm water management ordinance, but I can't find out why," he said to the commissioners. "We are separate from the builder. The town has no basis for giving me a stop-work order and I had no recourse until the Plan ning Commission met."
Town attorney Cynthia Hitt said the changes the builder made to original plans also would have an impact on the grading and street work that the developer was completing.
The meeting drew a few potential buyers and about 25 residents from Honey Hill. Mr. Dorsey had promised the buyers August delivery of larger homes, for which he had no permits. By the end of the evening, he had agreed to build to the approved specifications, an action that may cost him at least two buyers.
"We are not sure what the outcome will be until we have revised our plans and gotten approval," said Nancy Santoni, sales consultant for Dorsey Family Homes.
The builder may ask some customers to consider a revised floor plan, which would allow for construction of deeper, narrower homes, she said.
"Let us get started again as soon as possible," said Mr. Dorsey. "I took a chance, obviously the wrong chance. I made a mistake, but I need to move forward and deliver houses. I will work with you to rectify the mistake."
The commissioners stressed that they did not take the offenses lightly.
"You dug without a permit and you want us to work with you," said Councilman Michael H. Burgoyne, liaison to the commission. "You don't have credibility here."
Mr. Dorsey put the town in the middle of his dilemma, said Mr. Burgoyne. "The urgency created is of your own making," he said. "You want the town to approve your mistake."
The town wants consistency and continuity, with all plans out in the open, Mr. Burgoyne said.
With profuse apologies to the commission and promises to repay all expenses the town incurred -- attorney, engineering and inspection fees -- Mr. Dorsey hopes to be back in business.
"We walked away knowing what our damages are," said Ms. Santoni. "We will regrade to the original plan and change our sizes to fit in the envelope as originally discussed."
Mr. Candland said the stop-work order would be lifted as soon as the agreement was executed, possibly as early as today.