Sykesville faces a $3 million lawsuit, brought by the daughter of a town councilman, over issues surrounding the town's Historic District Commission.
In a suit filed in Carroll Circuit Court, Joy and Brad Baker say they were harassed when they tried to remodel their Main Street house for rental units. The couple has asked for damages that would be double the town's operating budget.
Baker is the daughter of Councilman Charlie Mullins. The suit comes in the midst of the town's efforts to revive its downtown and restore its 19th-century clapboard storefronts. Its historic commission, a panel of volunteers appointed by the Town Council, has banned vinyl from its historic district, which includes most of Main Street.
The policy has polarized longtime residents and landlords in the downtown business section. Many property owners say the policy places a financial burden on them. Vinyl siding lasts up to about 15 years; wood siding must be repaired and repainted much more frequently.
The town issued two citations to the Bakers in 1997 after they had contractors replace wooden windows with vinyl ones. When the Bakers refused to pay $800 in fines, the town sued them in District Court. In December 1998, that court upheld the Bakers, ruling that Sykesville had failed to prove a violation of its restoration guidelines.
The court battle and the town's "willful, deliberate and knowing acts of negligence" caused the couple "substantial financial and emotional damages," the new lawsuit says.
"Prosecution was instituted by the town in retaliation for their public support of the use of vinyl siding," according to the Bakers' suit.
"Harassment produces anger, although justifiable anger," said James A. Mogey, the couple's attorney. "Few citations have been issued for windows, especially given they were the same size, shape and panes as the old ones. This suit vindicates the Bakers' rights. The other suit was the town against them."
The Bakers say the town "had failed to create a properly constituted historic commission" and "had failed to adopt mandatory guidelines."
"The commission was set up in accordance with Maryland statutes," said Dennis J. Hoover, town attorney. "Members are appointed in accordance with what is outlined in the statute, and in theory they have an interest or background in history."
The couple said the original lawsuit cost them "thousands of dollars in legal fees and harmed their reputation in the community."
"The irony is, now they are essentially putting themselves through the same process and suing the town all over again," said Matthew H. Candland, the town manager.
Any property owner who wants to change the exterior of a building in the Historic District must apply for a permit from the commission. The Bakers never made such an application, Candland said.