Code Enforcement is the process required to force some citizens to follow the zoning regulations. Zoning regulations exist to ensure that everyone is protected from uses and activities that would be detrimental to their health, well-being, enjoyment of their property, or just plain nuisances. The proper enforcement of these regulations is essential for a decent society. If everyone was considerate of others, there would be no need for such regulations, but, in any society there are some who just don't get it - that they must be considerate of others. 200 years ago, these regulations were not needed, as most people seemed to have understood the limits and societies could deal with the occasional person who did not conform to the community's standards or expectations. The final action, when discussion failed, was to march that person to the county line, kick them across, and tell them to never come back. If the offence was particularly egregious, there might also be tar and feathers involved.
Today, we have the rule of law, and "civilized" processes that must be used to deal with violators. One of these is Code Enforcement.
Government officials and developers sometimes wonder why citizens object to some new development or planned use, when it seems to them to be okay. It is often simply the case that citizens are afraid, with good reason, that Code Enforcement will refuse to help them if that allowed new use gets out of hand or exceeds its permitted operation. Thus, their only choice is to oppose it completely. Those officials and developers should learn that effective Code Enforcement in all cases would greatly reduce the opposition to new things.
Unfortunately, the experience in Kingsville (see below) leads one to believe that Code Enforcement cares very little about helping the community to mitigate uses and activities that are decreasing the value of our properties and everyday enjoyment by destroying our community. The following provides details on a number of the more serious problem areas. These descriptions are limited to detailing the facts, taken from Code Enforcement's own records and County Codes, related to each case. Thus, if anyone thinks that these are misrepresenting the situation, I would be glad to address specific issues so that this material is all factual. Otherwise, I am totally responsible for and stand behind the content.
A word about the Code Enforcement process in Baltimore County for those who are not familiar with it. The typical (proper) process is as follows:
- A citizen files a complaint. (The Code Enforcement department rarely takes action on their own without a citizen initiated complaint.) A complaint may be filed online, by e-mail, by phone, or by letter. The only way to file an anonymous complaint is by letter (and it is not certain whether CE takes these seriously).
- An inspector is assigned to visit the site. Depending on the situation found, the inspector may
- Decide that there is "no violation" (which sometimes just means it will not be prosecuted)
- Give a verbal warning
- Issue a written "correction notice", giving a deadline to correct the violation.
- When the deadline has passed, the inspector makes another visit and, if the violation still exists, issues a "citation", which lists the offences, states a proposed fine, and schedules a hearing date.
- Before the hearing, the inspector normally visits the site again and, if the violation has been corrected, cancels the citation and the hearing. (Have you ever heard of a police officer tearing up a speeding ticket when they see you not speeding the next week?)
- If the violation has not been corrected after what was really a second warning, a hearing is held.
- If the violator does not show up for the hearing, the proposed fine is due, and they have no right to appeal.
- Normally, when the violator agrees to comply, the fine is significantly reduced at the hearing, sometimes with a portion "suspended", to be immediately due in case of further violations. The citizen who filed the complaint may testify at this hearing. The Judge issues an "Order" which usually specifies exactly what needs to be corrected and the deadline.
- If the violator is not happy about the conviction or the fine, they may appeal to the Board of Appeals, which is held "on the record".
- If the complainant is not happy that the violator got off, they do not have the right to appeal. The only choice would be to convince the People's Counsel to file an appeal.
- If the Judge imposed a deadline, the inspector visits the site after that date and initiates new action if still not corrected. (The County rarely takes this step unless pushed very hard by citizens.)
Our experience in Kingsville
Looking back over the records from the past decade, it is obvious that we have been through 3 phases of Code Enforcement efforts, that have affected our community:
- In the early days of this saga (2003-2006), we were assigned a caring inspector who did a good job, sometimes in spite of an apparent lack of management support. At the same time, we had a Councilman who always demonstrated a concern for the community and, when asked, would try to help. Steps were being taken to better our community, even if they sometimes felt as slow as molasses.
- Later (about 2007-2012), we were assigned an inspector who, at best was incompetent, and at the worst - well you imagine. From 2011 until 2015, we also had a Councilman who could not be depended on for help. During this period, our community was going to hell.
- Now, we are once again assigned an inspector who demonstrates professionalism and we have a Councilman who steps up to helping, as with the recent Upper Falls mess. It is now time to take control of our community!
Major Code Enforcement Issues in Kingsville
During the past 10 years, the following have been where the majority of the Code Enforcement action (and lack thereof), and destruction of our community, has been in the Kingsville area. Each provides a detailed history of the cases and links to reference documents. I hope that residents will take the time to read, and digest, each of these, since they will, no doubt, end up being as disgusted as I am - both that anyone would do this in our community and that the County would do so little to help. Feedback is welcome.