BRENDA ROBINSON IS PRESIDENT OF THE BENNINGTON HOMEOWNER ASSOCIATION IN GAITHERSBURG, WHICH IS TRYING TO REACH COMPROMISE WITH TRUCK OWNERS OVER THE COMMUNITY'S ANTITRUCK RULES. AN EDITING ERROR IN AN ARTICLE YESTERDAY MADE IT APPEAR THAT SHE IS CONNECTED TO MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, WHICH HAS A DISPUTE OVER PICKUP TRUCKS. (Published 9/27/87)
Montgomery Village resident Chrystina Missbrenner drives a pert red Nissan pickup truck, so diminutive that it wouldn't dare take on a full-sized suburban station wagon in a dark alley. It is dwarfed by the husky Chevy Blazer driven by Missbrenner's husband Dan.
But in Montgomery Village -- a 28,000-resident development north of Gaithersburg where covenants can control everything concerning appearance, from screen-door colors to swing sets to recreational vehicles -- the Nissan is a no-no after dark. The Blazer, a long, tall passenger vehicle, isn't.
Therein lies the crux of a 20-year saga of class conflict, and not solely over class of vehicle. It's a conflict found in many developments and condominium complexes with similar antitruck rules, but it has grown to larger proportions in Montgomery Village because it is the biggest of the so-called planned communities in Montgomery County.
"It's not fair for a homeowner to have to go through stuff like this," said Montgomery Village resident and Mitsubishi pickup owner Larry Carr, a technician with an industrial gas company who is forced by the rules to park more than a mile from his town house. "It's enough that they tell you how to paint your house, but to tell you what to drive and not drive is ridiculous."
Since the first houses were sold in Montgomery Village about two decades ago, trucks and commercial vehicles of all stripes have been prohibited overnight unless they're hidden away in garages or parked on the few county-maintained roads. Owners can be sued by the community for violating the covenants and usually end up moving or selling their trucks as a result.
Over the years, several dozen cases have gone to court; the truck owners -- now believed to number in the hundreds at Montgomery Village -- have always lost. Some regard the rules as antiworking class, for pickup trucks are often needed by construction workers and other service workers for their jobs.
But also over the years, the design lines distinguishing trucks and other vehicles have blurred, and small, sleek pickup trucks have become ubiquitous. Fitted with "caps," some pickups look like passenger vans. The vans aren't prohibited in Montgomery Village, but pickups with or without caps are.
Esthetically, "the problem is not the person with the nice little Datsun pickup," said Roy Shannon, president of the North Village Homeowners Association. "It's four-wheel drive truck with the paint cans hanging off the back."
The impact of the vehicle covenant in Montgomery Village is seen at night, along the packed shoulders of the county roads near garageless town house developments, where trucks are parked bumper to bumper and broken windshield glass sparkles in the streetlamp light. Some owners face long hikes when they come home, and many say their trucks have been vandalized repeatedly.
"I don't mind a challenge," said Chrystina Missbrenner, who moved here from a more truck-minded apartment complex in Southern California last January and who is helping spearhead a protest movement against the covenants. "But I have become cynical, saddened, frustrated and furious because of the lack of accountability" about what constitutes a prohibited vehicle in Montgomery Village.
About 50 truck owners have signed on to the campaign to reverse the covenants established by the nine homeowner associations. But such an effort is regarded by community officials as doomed to failure, for under the rules established by the Kettler Brothers, developers of the complex, three-fourths of the property owners in the village have to agree to a change, and the development company can still veto it if it wishes.
The Missbrenners, who are renting their town house, said they were not told about the covenant when they moved in, a frequent complaint of both renters and property buyers who own trucks, and a charge the management denies. Chrystina Missbrenner, who uses her truck to get to her job as an executive assistant in Tysons Corner, says she continues to park illegally near her home because she doesn't want to walk home in the dark from the county road.
Under a law that went into effect in Maryland last summer, sellers must now supply homebuyers with all covenants affecting the property.
David Krawetzki, a disabled Navy veteran who uses his pickup truck for his work as a foreman and stores his tools in it, said he continues to violate the rule as well, because he can't walk the half mile to the nearby road.
"I got a copy of the covenant about three months after I moved in," he said. His truck has been plastered repeatedly with red-and-white warning stickers, even though it bears handicapped plates, and he has been told that his case will go to court, he said. Trucks all over Montgomery Village bear tattered remnants of those stickers.
The truck question is described by officials of the homeowner associations in the village as both sensitive and complicated.
The covenants were put in place by the Kettler Brothers to keep the 2,500-acre community looking marketable well into the 1990s, when the remaining pasture and woodland will be covered with houses and apartments.
A Kettler Brothers official said the covenant was designed after much research with experts and after considering covenants in other planned communities. The antitruck covenant helps maintain the type of life style the company wanted to create, the official said.
Even the majority of people who live in Montgomery Village have indicated in polls that they think the covenants are a good idea, according to officials of the Montgomery Village Foundation, which enforces the rules and is supported by assessments.
"Most of the residents feel very strongly that they are for covenant control and do not want trucks in their neighborhood," said Martha Cable, a member of the homeowner association board for Maryland Place, a 276-unit town house section where prices range from about $65,000 to $95,000. "We think it makes our neighborhood look a lot better if there's not a lot of trucks . . . . It's a very modest community, and we work very hard to keep it nice so our property values stay up."
"They're making it impossible for blue-collar people to live in Montgomery County," said Tom Perry Jr., a Montgomery Village resident and truck owner whose family has owned a lumber and building supplies company in the county for decades. "These are hard-working people, trying to make a dollar, and the corporation is telling them they can't bring in small trucks."
"The covenant was written by the builder . . . back when there weren't 'yuppie' trucks," said board President Brenda Robinson. "We're trying to work it out."