Every time it rains, Frank Martin shovels mud off his driveway and curses the ankle-deep water surrounding his Ellicott City home. He says Land Design and Development of Columbia improperly graded the lots of six homes surrounding his house.
Donald R. Reuwer, president of Land Design and Development, said it was Mr. Martin's responsibility to install a storm drainage system so the rainwater wouldn't flood his property.
Their dispute is being mediated by three county agencies -- Planning and Zoning, Public Works, and Inspections, Licenses and Permits. But new rules that take effect today were developed to prevent such homeowner-developer clashes, Howard County officials said.
"We want to deal with the situations that may cause problems when construction reaches the stage when it's almost impossible to reverse," said David Hammerman, county Inspections, Licenses and Permits director.
The department issues more than 5,000 building permits a year and maybe a dozen or so result in problems, Mr. Hammerman said. Mr. Martin's grading complaint is one of the most extreme cases.
A grading problem is as difficult to fix as cleaning up "a site where an airplane crashed," Mr. Hammerman said.
Both new county policies deal with grading:
* Homebuilders must submit an "approved location survey" for each building permit issued for a new home. This will guarantee that the building will not deviate more than 5 feet from plans approved by the county and that the grading and drainage plans are correct.
* Homebuilders must adhere to a stricter grading certification policy that says grades must be within 1 foot of those approved by the county.
To help resolve potential problems quickly, the county Planning and Zoning office began a walk-through process last month for speedy review and approval of any changes to a site development plan.
Before the revision, homebuilders either endured a lengthy approval process that held up construction, or waited until the project was completed before notifying the agencies about the changes. Both options were inconvenient for the homebuilder or the county, Mr. Hammerman said.
While officials say the new rules should ease those problems, the policy changes won't help Mr. Martin.
He moved into his home -- which was designed and built to his specifications in the Turf Valley Overlook community -- in November 1993. He complained to Mr. Reuwer about the water runoff from surrounding houses weeks later and contacted the county for its assistance a year after that. The runoff has ruined his lawn and driveway, Mr. Martin said. "It's just a sin," Mr. Martin, a former homebuilder, said. "I have to live with this. This is ridiculous."
Mr. Reuwer agreed the situation is acute. "There's a genuine problem, but it's not a problem on our part," he said. "I'm attempting to coordinate a solution only as a courtesy."
The two men agree that a storm drain is the best solution, but they disagree on who will pay for it.
Without a storm drain, Mr. Martin should have expected a water flow problem, because his lot is the lowest on the development, Mr. Reuwer said. "It's not like it was a surprise," he said.
Mr. Martin said the grading on the site development plan didn't require a drainage system. But Mr. Martin claims Mr. Reuwer graded the other lots improperly and said Mr. Reuwer should pay for its installation.
The county is working with the two parties toward a resolution.
"This has been going on for quite a while," said Jim Irvin, county Public Works director. "We're still trying to finalize who has to pay for the system."