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Quick and Dirty

Elder, Statesman

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 10/4/2006

Sept. 26's Baltimore City Board of Municipal Zoning and Appeals docket had a familiar name on it: John Elder, the prolific engineer tied to multiple building collapses and an extensive criminal record ("Collapse," Aug. 2). Elder was listed as the "appellant" in three separate cases before the board. He was there to argue, on behalf of property owners, the case for allowing otherwise unpermittable additions and rooftop decks.

One of his clients elected to appear before the board herself, and the board approved her application, involving a two-story rear addition and roof deck on 3104 Fait Ave. in Canton, without discussion.

When the cases involving 623 S. Rose St. and 813 S. Glover St. were called, Elder stepped to the bench with the properties' owner, Michael Buckingham, and pitched his case. A zoning official said that the board has a letter from the Canton Community Association saying that, in light of City Paper's recent stories, it won't support any project Elder is involved in without "a face to face meeting." Learning that no such meeting had occurred, zoning board Chairwoman LaTina Burse Greene gave Elder an earful. "You do have a habit of not contacting community associations," she scolded.

"I called them, and they never called me back," Elder explained, adding that he had left numerous messages on the group's answering machine over the past month. Asked if he had sent a letter, Elder said, "I did not see the P.O. box on their web site." He also did not try an e-mail. "I just don't do e-mail," the engineer (who recently told a client he has three fax machines) explained. "I'm afraid if I started doing e-mails I might miss e-mails."

Buckingham told the board that the immediate Rose Street neighbors are "happy to have their property values increased" by his pending project. But when Elder submitted drawings of the proposed three-story rear addition with second floor and rooftop decks, Green recoiled. "What is this?" she demanded.

"My nephew does the drawings," Elder offered.

The hearing continued in this vein for several minutes, with Green repeatedly admonishing Elder for his unprofessionalism. Buckingham tried to assuage the board and convince them that he had consulted with his neighbors about the project, although he could not offer a name or even a precise address. "The one that is most impacted is fully in support," he insisted. Elder pledged to continue his attempts to reach the neighborhood group.

When the next case was called, Buckingham explained that he was referred to Elder by a former Elder client, adding that Elder "has done reasonably well for me despite disappointment with the way this hearing is going."

The zoning board approved both projects.

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