All Donna Gorjon wanted was approval to build a sun room addition for her house, according to her plans.
But last night -- after what she called an "endless ordeal" -- she was driven to tears, forced to compromise on her dream design by a Wilde Lake Village committee intent on adhering to Columbia's strict architectural guidelines.
After eight meetings and six months of stalemate, Ms. Gorjon and her husband, Dr. Mario Gorjon, reluctantly accepted a compromise to build a more gently sloped roof on the 324-square-foot addition -- a compromise that angered several of their Waterfowl Terrace neighbors who called the review process "dictatorial," "micromanaging" and "absurd."
The dispute over the slope of the roof is emblematic of the tension surrounding the town's architectural standards: residents' desire to do what they want with their properties vs. covenants that require a certain degree of conformity.
And Mrs. Gorjon complained bitterly that she had no option to appeal the decision. Columbia officials say Wilde Lake is the only village that doesn't offer some appeal option.
Wilde Lake Architectural Committee members defended their position, saying that the guidelines -- contained in covenants that come with the land -- require that new structures be compatible with existing ones. They contended that a high-pitched roof would be incompatible with the Gorjons' house and their neighborhood, which overlooks Wilde Lake.
But Ms. Gorjon and several neighbors said the committee was overzealous in its interpretation.
"This has been hard -- six months," said Ms. Gorjon, after a one-hour, 20-minute discussion that ended in the compromise.
Several of her neighbors expressed support, saying that they liked the Gorjons' plans and contending that the architectural committee shouldn't act as the community's arbiter of taste.
"Nobody should have to go through this. This is absurd," said Waterfowl Terrace resident Jean Crimmins. "What gives you this right?"
Architectural committee member James Meale responded that the volunteer board has a difficult job of balancing individuals' desires with the community's interests -- established nearly 30 years ago in covenants written by the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer.
Ms. Gorjon argued that she was simply trying to give a 1960s house a 1990s look with an addition featuring a "dramatic" cathedral-style roof. She predicted more residents in the 28-year-old village -- Columbia's oldest community -- will be seeking approval for similar major projects, not just minor improvements.
Several Wilde Lake residents have complained recently that architectural rules don't take into account changes, such as deteriorating properties, modern design elements and today's need for greater security measures, such as brighter outdoor lights.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Gorjon, a 26-year Wilde Lake resident and speech-language pathologist, said she strongly supports Columbia's architectural standards.
Last month, she urged the Columbia Council -- the board of directors of the Columbia Association, which oversees the enforcement of the architectural rules in the new town -- to modernize the review process to reflect changing times.
"Some residents don't fit into the mold of 25 years ago," she said.
The Wilde Lake Village Board is working to amend its covenants to create an appeals board, said Janet Blumenthal, village board chairwoman. She said she ran for village board this year out of displeasure with an architectural review process that's "too autocratic."
"A lot of people in Wilde Lake have been frustrated," she said.