Residents' days are numbered

The Baltimore Sun

When he heard about the new law, hardware store owner Vincent Ayd wasted no time calling in his order.

If the Baltimore County Council wants to require some residents to display their address on the back of their properties, he is happy to sell the metal and plastic house numbers.

"I'm putting them right at the front," the store owner said at Ayd Hardware in Towson. "I'm going to call them alley numbers."

The legislation passed Tuesday night by the County Council applies to owners of homes and businesses that back up to driveable alleys. The measure, designed to help firefighters and code inspectors more easily identify homes and other buildings, takes effect March 9. County Executive James T. Smith Jr. signed it into law last night.

"It's good common sense," said Don Gerding, a community activist in the Rodgers Forge neighborhood, where more than 700 homes back up to alleys. "Each community has to say, 'We have to get our acts together and do this.'"

But the requirement passed by the thinnest of margins, with three of the seven councilmen voting against the measure.

"I just think it's an unnecessary burden on homeowners," said one of them, council President Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, adding that the legislation was twice defeated before narrowly passing this week.

"It's just another burden for our code inspectors, who are already overburdened with higher priorities," Kamenetz said.

The new requirement doesn't affect property owners whose homes or businesses lack a road or alley providing vehicular access to the rear of their properties.

But thousands of Baltimore County residents and merchants who have such roadways will have to put their address numbers on the backs of their houses and stores or on rear fences. Although the county does not know how many homes and businesses back to alleys, most are in the Catonsville, Towson, Essex and Dundalk areas, said Timothy M. Kotroco, director of the Department of Permits and Development.

"The most important aspect is public safety," said Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation. "It could improve response times - even a few minutes could save someone's life."

Although police and fire officials did not request the measure, they welcomed the effort to help identify homes.

In fire emergencies, crews respond to both the front and rear of a home or building, said Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for the county Fire Department.

If flames are visible, it is obvious to the crews where to go, but there are times when smoke isn't showing, she said. "Anything that makes a home more visible is welcomed in the fire service and medical community," she said.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat and former police officer, said he recalled many times when the address numbers on the backs of homes would have been useful.

"It's dark. You're in an alley. And you have to call around to officers in the front and say, 'How many houses from the corner?'" Gardina said. "It takes time. Minutes go by."

Not only would the numbers help firefighters and police respond to emergencies, they could also help if any of the responders was in distress, Gardina said.

The new law does not specify where the address numbers should be displayed. They can be nailed to the rear of the home or be painted on a back fence, so long as the address is visible, county officials said.

The legislation requires that address numbers or letters should be 3 inches high.

In Baltimore City - another jurisdiction with many houses on alleys - property owners are not required to display address numbers on the backs of homes or businesses, said city spokesman Sterling Clifford.

In Dundalk, where many homes back up to alleys, Bob Nozeika said he has been pushing for years for the county to adopt the measure.

"When we hear complaints about someone not keeping up their property, nine times out of 10, it's the rear of the house in question," said Nozeika, president of the Eastwood Residents and Business Association of Baltimore County.

The numbers displayed on the alley side of homes "will help me communicate more intelligently with code inspectors," he said.

In March, when the law takes effect, "We may still have some nasty weather," Nozeika said. "I would've thought they'd given more time, but I'm happy to see it passed."

Other councilmen and community leaders say the additional address numbers will also help utility crews and citizen patrol groups.

Karl Pfrommer, a spokesman for the Towson-area Citizens on Patrol group, said he had included in a neighborhood newsletter a request from police for residents to put their addresses on the backs of their homes, but that not many people had done so.

He and other community leaders hope that having the requirement spelled out in law, with county officials able to issue written warnings and levy $100 fines, will help with compliance.

But not all officials are convinced.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, one of the members who voted against the address legislation, predicted the new regulation will be largely overlooked by county residents.

Although the new regulation won't affect most residents in the rural, northern part of the county that he represents, McIntire said he did not want to legislate another obligation for residents and for county employees who will have to enforce it.

"They have so many things that are more serious," McIntire said.

Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat who supported the measure, said the numbers have been a subject on talk radio and in several news articles. But to be sure the word gets to residents, he said he planned to write about it in the district newsletter sent to community groups.

Timothy M. Kotroco, director of the Department of Permits and Development, said the county does not plan to send out inspectors looking for residents and businesses who fail to put up the address numbers.

Instead, he said, when the inspectors are called to a property for problems, they might note in their correction notices whether address numbers need to be posted.

"Going forward, I expect we'll be doing a lot of warnings, as opposed to violation notices at first," Kotroco said.

At Ayd Hardware, 4-inch metal address numbers cost $1.99. Plastic numbers are 99 cents. And 3-inch reflective number stickers are 40 cents.

Store manager Tom Akins joked that the store should charge more, now that they're law for many residents.

But Ayd, who received his first shipment of numbers yesterday, said he would offer discounts to bulk orders from neighborhoods.

A typical resident should be able to comply with the new law for less than $10, Olszewski said.

"It doesn't have to be expensive," he said. "I don't think it's a huge burden."

Alley numbers

Baltimore County's new law on displaying address numbers at the rear of some properties:

Applies to any house or business that backs up to a driveable alley or roadway.

Specifies that numerals must be at least 3 inches high and visible from the alley or roadway.

Requires numbers to be displayed by March 9.

Imposes a $100 fine on property owners who fail to put up the numbers after receiving a warning from the county.

Source: Baltimore County Council Bill 102-07

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