News

January 29, 2004

There is little that county government can do about a developer's having taken down a large part of an old stone wall, a hearing examiner told 41 agitated Paladin Club residents who turned out for an administrative hearing about the incident.

James Edwards barred them from any role in the hearing on Jan. 28, but agreed to stay around afterwards and listen while they vented their concerns and asked questions. Several times while they were doing so, he told them that their remarks were not part of the official record and will have no bearing on the decision he will render.

The hearing was limited to determining whether Edgewood Village L.l.c. violated the Unified Development Code by hiring a contractor to take down most of the wall without having obtained a

county permit. If found in violation, the firm would be required to obtain an after-the-fact permit at double the fee and could be subjected to a civil fine ranging up to $1,000.

As Delaforum first reported, Edgewood Village, a unit of Pettinaro Construction Co., had most of the wall dismantled in apparent preparation for constructing five townhouse buildings in the vicinity. Although the plan does call for destruction of the wall, the rub is that the plan is in the early stages of the Department of Land Use review process and, according to Wayne Merritt, of the department, at least nine months away from a final determination.

 

A wall, apparently built of indigenous Brandywine 'granite', now comes to a sudden end on the hillside along Paladin Drive. Some residents of the condominium community are demanding that it be restored.

 

What's more, the Historic Review Board is investigating the possibility that the Brandywine 'granite' wall has historic significance and is worthy of being protected. Paladin resident Roy Jackson previously told Delaforum that it dates back to when the site of the condominium community was part of the Sellers family estate and is "at least 100 years old."

"It was a masterpiece of construction. It was not just any wall," said Jim Jones, president of the Paladin Club Master Association, during the post-hearing session.

Moreover, according to residents, the wall served a functional purpose by controlling the flow of stormwater down a steep hill onto Paladin Drive and beyond to the condominium units on the east side of that street. It also is among the community amenities Edgewood Village touts to prospective condo buyers.

All of that is, in effect, irrelevant, Edwards said. "All I can base my decision on is what's in here," he explained referring to the county's development code.

Code inspector John Connell testified that Edgewood Village proceeded without a permit. Under the law, a permit is required if more than 5,000 square feet of land is disturbed or if a protective barrier is higher than four feet. Connell said two sections of wall, 658 feet and about 200 feet long, were taken out and removal of the stones tore up a piece of land 15 feet wide between the wall and the street. The wall, he said, varied in height between three-and-a-half and six feet.

Wendy Danner, Edgewood Village's lawyer, testified that the affected sections were 590 feet and 140 feet long, that only two to four feet of ground were disturbed in the process and that the wall averaged less than four feet tall.

Edwards did not respond when resident Tom Kummer suggested than an equitable remedy would be to "make them put the wall back up." However, that prompted Mike Walsh, president of the development company, to make his own comment of the afternoon. He said the company is still in possession of the removed stones, but added that it is "not able" to rebuild the wall.

Jon Husband, president of the Fox Point Association, endorsed Kummer's position. John Cartier, preservation committee chairman of the area civic organization and Democratic candidate in the new eighth County Council district, said that "a major historic resource in our community has been forever eliminated" and suggested that a restored wall would partly offset that.

Cartier expressed concern for two former estate carriage houses, one of which is now the community's club house. "The Historic Review Board will have something to say about them," he said.

Danner said Edgewood Village "is willing to do anything necessary to stabilize" the hillside where the sections of the wall were removed. "That would be a solution to what we're here for today," she said.

Stabilization efforts would have started already had the county inspector not issued a 'stop work' order, she said. Connell said the county did partly waive the order to permit some trees, previously supported by the removed sections of the wall, to be cut down to eliminate a safety hazard. That was temporarily halted by snow and ice, Danner said.

"We're going to keep our eye on that hill," Edwards said.

Stabilization doesn't end the matter, said lawyer Richard Abbott, who has been retained by the Paladin Club Master Association, the condominium maintenance organization of the owners of units along Paladin Drive. He said he has not yet had an opportunity to look into all the ramifications, but said there is a good possibility that the wall and the open space around it are designated as common areas, where condo owners have proportional ownership.

"They may have destroyed something that doesn't [completely] belong to them," Abbott said. If that is so, he added, the condo owners might be able to block the development plan by simply not signing off on it as owners of the property.

In any event, he said during the post-hearing session, taking down the wall was the kind of action "we've seen too many times with developers."

The Pettinaro interests "are sophisticated developers [who] know the process and how things operate in the county," he said. "They flaunt the law [and then] make it a fait accompli."

2004. All rights reserved.

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