The Howard County government has lifted the construction suspension it imposed a week ago on Washington Homes, Inc., a major homebuilder in Columbia, to force the firm to remedy dozens of building code violations on 25 houses under construction in Owen Brown village.
The county's Bureau of Inspections, Licences an Permits also ordered the contractor to take "corrective action" on at least 12 of the 100 occupied houses the firm built along Watercress Place in Long Reach.
M. Robert Gemmill, chief of the inspection bureau, characterized the action as a "crackdown" on accumulated violations by Washington Homes. He said his decision to refuse to grant further building permits and use and occupancy permits until the violations were corrected was the most severe action taken against a contractor in the county since 1970 when a similar order was imposed on Levitt & Sons, Inc.
Following the issuance of the order 10 days ago, Gemmill met with Lawrence M. Breneman, president of Washington Homes, to discuss the county's requirements. "The county was right," Breneman said in a later interview. "There were all kinds of minor things wrong - generally bad finish work. Our people should have done a better job and caught them."
Breneman stressed that the scores of code violations noted by the county did not include any structural faults or serious construction flaws that were not easily corrected. "Our people went out over last weekend and began working to comply with the order," he said. "We've been working like demons since Friday (April 22) and we think we've got it all corrected."
Gemmill had noted that among the violations were heating units not operating according to the manufacturer's specifications and improper insulation on exterior walls and patio doors.
Douglas A. McGregor, vice president in charge of land development of the Rouse Company's Howard Research and Development Corp., which is developing Columbia, said the incident has been blown up out of proportion.
"The county was right. The builder had accumulated a number of items that had to be corrected, but there was no violation which was not correctable within a few days," McGregor said.
"At the occupied homes some of the lawn seeding hadn't taken and had to redone. At some, knotted trim lumber was used in framing garage doors and the grading at the rear of some lots was wrong and sent rain toward the homes, creating puddling. Ductwork needed to be done on some slab houses without basements where the heating system wasn't meeting specifications," he explained. "The county was never talking about cases of material defects."
McGregor said he thought the county took the action to make a point with a builder who had not worked in the county prior to 1976. "It was a very effective attention-gettingdevice to get quick action and to bring the problems to the attention of executives at the company who otherwise wouldn't have known of them. What can I say - it worked," he added.
McGregor said Rouse had not experienced this type of problem with a builder since mid-1972 when work on another group of homes in Columbia was suspended for code violations. "The tactic is used infrequently," he said, "but all it means is that the county won't inspect any more until the old problems are fixed."
Breneman had originally charged that the suspension was imposed by Gemmill without adequate notice to his company and that the order was initiated by Thomas J. Regan, Jr., the county public wroks director, who lives in the Watercress Place area. Breneman had said that Regan was "responding to the complaints of his neighbors" rather than to major problems at the building site.
Regan denied the charge earlier this week. "There is no truth to his allegation. They (Washington Homes) have had ample time to make corrections and they have not moved."
Gemmill and members of his staff inspected the Owen Brown and Long Reach houses in question Thursday.