Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ag Reserve landscape seeking county OK gets bad review, again

Board of Appeals will make final decision on Dickerson property

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Laurie Dewitt⁄The Gazette
Logs and fencing on the property of Butler Landscape Design at 21020 Peach Tree Road in Dickerson. The county’s Board of Appeals is expected to issue its ruling on a special exception that would allow the business to continue operating.
A landscape contractor seeking permission to do business out of a narrow lot in Dickerson received another poor review from county officials who say the owner’s history of noncompliance makes it unlikely the company will adhere to any conditions it could impose.

Butler Landscape Design has been operating out of a 2.68-acre lot at 21020 Peach Tree Road surrounded by homes without a special exception since April 2006, upsetting neighbors and leading to a protracted legal battle with the county. The company’s latest setback comes from Montgomery County Hearing Examiner Lutz Prager, who recommended denial of the special exception request in a report dated June 24. The issue next goes to the county’s Board of Appeals, which will make the final decision. A worksession is scheduled July 23.

Noise and truck traffic on the property’s driveway would negatively affect on the site’s neighbors, according to the report, and owner Melody Butler ‘‘is likely to ignore” conditions imposed by the county to lessen the operation’s impact on the surrounding area.

Butler was cited for operating a landscaping contractor business without a special exception at a site on River Road in Potomac in 2005 and knew she was operating illegally on Peach Tree Road, according to the report. She also continued to ignore regulations she was aware of during the special exception application process, such as storing material within a 50-foot setback, failing to register several commercial trucks with the state and conducting business outside of operating hours, the report continues.

‘‘It became evident during the hearing that Butler tends to do what she wants without regard to legal and other obligations, including those of which she is well aware,” Prager wrote.

Butler’s attorneys did not return call for comment.

Activity has recently slowed down at the property, where Butler stores plants, mulch, vehicles and equipment, according to neighbor Cora Weeks.

‘‘Finally this year I can weed in my garden,” she said. The edge of the driveway running through the site is 22 feet from Weeks’ property line and 42 feet from her home, according to the report.

Landscape contractors must receive a special exception from the Board of Appeals to operate in the Agricultural Reserve. Butler purchased the property on April 4, 2006, according to state property records, and applied for a special exception on July 30, 2007.The county’s Department of Permitting Services served Butler with a notice of violation on April 27, 2006, informing her that she had 30 days to cease operations, according to DPS documents. Butler failed to comply and was issued a civil citation in June 2006.The case moved to Montgomery County District Court, which issued an order of abatement in April 2007. Butler appealed the notice of violation in Montgomery County Circuit Court, though the case has been postponed until after the Board of Appeals makes its decision.