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Court complaint pending against Habitiat

June 25, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

A Habitat for Humanity duplex under construction in Boonsboro seemingly has survived two obstacles - a temporary injunction and a town ordinance - but still faces a legal challenge.

Karen Shifler of Lakin Avenue, who lives near the duplex under construction off St. Paul Street, is seeking a permanent injunction against the project.

On June 11, Shifler's attorney, Kirk Downey, filed a complaint in Washington County Circuit Court asking for both a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction.

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Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley granted a temporary restraining order the same day, but Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III - acting in Beachley's absence - vacated the order three days later.

Downey said Boone's decision on the temporary restraining order does not affect Shifler's original complaint, which is pending.

Downey said Thursday that he has not yet served Sherry Brown Cooper, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Washington County, with the complaint. Cooper will have 30 days to file a response to the complaint after she receives it.

Contacted Thursday, Cooper said she was not aware of the original complaint, other than the request for a preliminary injunction.

On Wednesday, Boonsboro Mayor Charles F. "Skip" Kauffman Jr. said a newly passed emergency ordinance prohibiting houses from fronting alleys would not apply to "any house under construction."

Kauffman said the ordinance - which was to take effect 10 days after the Town Council passed it on June 14 - was not an anti-Habitat measure. Rather, it was meant to ensure safety, he said.

Reacting as if the measure could shut down the project, Habitat rallied volunteers to speed up the construction. Their hope was to finish a substantial amount of work before the deadline, which would give the project legal standing under Maryland law.

Kauffman said Wednesday that it was "pretty obvious" that substantial construction was done, so the emergency ordinance wouldn't apply.

Shifler has said that she, too, is concerned about safety and traffic around the 10-foot alley, not because Habitat is involved.

Her complaint on file in Circuit Court argues that the project should be permanently halted.

The complaint quotes Boonsboro's subdivision ordinance, which requires that "all lots shall have direct access to an existing or proposed public street."

Shifler alleges that she was not notified in advance that the Planning Commission would consider a modification or variance to the frontage provision.

The Planning Commission granted the frontage variance on Oct. 2, 2002, according to minutes filed with the complaint.

The Planning Commission gave final approval to the project on July 10, 2003, according to a plat plan on file in the county's land records office.

This was Habitat's third attempt to build at the same spot; two earlier plans were turned down.

Without notice from the Planning Commission, Shifler couldn't challenge the variance or the final approval, her complaint says.

Roger Schlossberg, an attorney representing Habitat, previously has said that Shifler's argument about frontage is baseless because the alley next to the duplex "can be defined as a street."

Shifler's complaint says the subdivision ordinance does not consider a street to be the same as an alley.

Meanwhile, Habitat volunteers are continuing to build. Cooper said that the plan for Thursday was to finish the foundation and waterproof it, work that could spill over into today.

Volunteers then will stop and wait for the county to inspect the work. Cooper expected that to be done early next week.

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