Sherry Salomon calls it a "medieval monstrosity." Randy Titus says it's built so shabbily that it reminds me of a little bit of Tijuana, right here on our street." Steve Boyko simply calls it "that thing."

By whatever name, the problem in the East Bethesda neighborhood called Columbia Forest is a garage.

It was built five years ago by James Meehan behind his home at 4305 Lynbrook Dr., in the shadow of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Meehan, a government economist in his mid-30s whose hobby is rebuilding Porsches, says he needed the garage to work on his cars and those of friends.

In 1974, he obtained a building permit from the Montgomery County government, and began to set the footings on the two-story high building.

Almost since that day, the garage has been the focus of intense squabbling among Meehan and his neighbors, and the subject of three separate Montgomery County government investigations demanded by Meehan's neighbors.

County housing officials say the case is the longest-running neighborhood hassle over a garage in their memories.

Meehan's neighbors agree that the true community issue is as much East Bethesda's image as it is an ugly garage.

"We're trying to build up a neighborhood here," said Titus, who is an administrator with a computer company.

"It's the kind of building and the kind of problem you expect not to find in Montgomery County," said Boyko, a Washington financial executive. "It doesn't wash with what I'm paying to live in Bethesda."

"It's a P.G. County kind of attitude he's (Meehan) got," added Titus. "It's a P.G. County of problem."

Housing prices in the Columbia Forest neighborhood are far above the Prince George's average. Today's arrivals would pay an average of $105,000 for one of the neighborhood's three-bedroom homes, according to real estate agents familiar with the area. Prices are expected to surge in three years, when Metro's Red Line subway, is scheduled to arrive at Wisconsin Avenue and East-West Highway, eight blocks away.

To Meehan's neighbors, the preferred way to calm the community tempest is simple: make Meehan tear down the garage. But Meegan adamantly refuses.

"The reality is, there is a building there and there will continue to be a building there," Meehan said. "I have an absolute legal right to have it there as long as it's in compliance with the codes."

The trouble is that it's not, and never has been.

County building inspector Wayne G. Norris and other inspectors found in May 1979 that the electrical system in the garage was faulty, and that at least 15 other code violations, several of them major structural defects, existed. By Meehan's own admission, none has been corrected.

In addition, Meehan's garage was built too close to the adjoining properties of Steve Boyko and Stephen Salomon.

County law requires a two-foot "setback," or no-construction zone, between touching lots. The walls of Meehan's garage are within 15 inches of the Salomon property line and within 21 inches of the Boyko property line. Meanwhile, eaves hanging from the roof extend two feet beyond the walls -- over the Salomons' and Boykos' property.

Still, it is the exterior of the Meechan garage -- tarpaper and unfinished masonry, overgrown with ivy -- that most infuriates his neighbors.

"It's the scroungiest-looking thing I've ever seen," said Sherry Salomon. "The whole neighborhood thinks it's an eyesore," said Donna Titus, Randy's wife. The overall quality of its construction and finish is "poor," said Norris's report.

In addition, according to neighbors, Meehan often clutters his yard -- and their view -- with auto parts and building materials, and declines to clean them up.

"It's been like living next to (an auto dealership)," said Salomon, 41, who said his back yard is often engulfed in shadows because of the garage.

L'Affaire Garage spent five years going through adminstrative appeals, inspections and reinspections. It finally had a culmination of sorts last month in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Judge Calvin R. Sanders denied Meehan a variance for his garage and ordered him to bring the structure into compliance with the county building code.

According to Bob Seely, who heads the field services section in the division of construction codes enforcement at the county's Department of Environmental Protection, Meehan will be contacted next week and given 10 days to comply with Sanders' order.

As a practical matter, Seely said, the judge's order means that Meehan must either move his building, chop off the eaves that extend over the property of his neighbors or tear down the garage.

Seely acknowledged, however, that Meehan has a right to further administrative appeals and reinspections.

"It's already been five years," Seely said, "and I can easily see this going on for two more."

To Sherry and Steve Salomon, the unsightliness of Meehan's garage not only reduces the potential resale value of their home, but has cost them "hundreds of dollars just so we can live here," Sherry Salomon said.

The Salomon recently installed a fence and trees in their backyard, at a cost of $750. "We were trying to blot out the sight of the garage," Sherry Salomon said.

But nothing has been able to blot out the noise of Meehan's auto-repair tools, she said.

"Just this Memorial Day weekend, we had planned a cookout in the back yard," said Sherry Salomon. "It was a beautiful day. We made our meal, and I was bringing the first forkful of food to my mouth when he started hammering out some body work dents with a hammer just at that instant.

"I'm so angry I can't even talk to him. Our life savings are in this house. Everything we have is in this house. Meehan's robbing us with that garage, if you want to look at it that way."

Meehan certainly doesn't want to.

"I think it's been an unfair thing," he said of his neighbors' campaign against him.

"I don't like to fan a fire, but there has been an attempt by my neighbors to radicalize the neighborhood, to stretch the facts so far out of proportion.

"There've been too many claims designed to make a spectacular splash . . . If they want a compromise, maybe they should be making a little bit different approach.

"Let's face it," said Meehan, a large, bearded man who lives in his Lynbrook Drive house with his wife Lucinda, a probation officer. "Being too close to a setback by three inches or nine inches is no big thing.

"And as far as the exterior is concerned, I haven't finished it because the county ordered me not to last year pending a hearing. Anything that I do at this point in time can be turned around by the county, and that costs money."

"He seems very agreeable," said Boyko, 33. "We talk to him about the mess, and Jim will say 'Yes.' But nothing ever gets done.

"He's doing things I was doing when I was 16 years old, with more expensive cars," said Randy Titus, 35.

Meehan says he does not know what he will do to bring the garage into compliance with the cunnty code.

"Moving the garage would be very difficult," he said, "possibly more difficult than tearing it down."

Whatever decision he finally makes, "it's something I'd like to get resolved," Meehan said.

That goes double for his neighbors. "You reach the point where enough's enough," said Steve Boyko.

"It's been like talking to a wall and I've had enough of that frustration," said his wife Mardena Ehret.

"It should only burn down," said Sherry Salomon, imploring the heavens with her eyes. "We should only be so lucky.