Jan Gardner

Jan Gardner, Frederick County Executive.

Frederick County Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would urge hotels and motels to update their phone lines to make it easier to dial 911, while amending a bill adding more flexibility for some property owners build additions to their homes.

Both bills were introduced by County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) on behalf of County Executive Jan Gardner (D). The one that passed, commonly known as Kari’s Law, is needed in order to align with federal and state law, and is named after the murder of Kari Hunt, who was killed in a hotel in Marshall, Texas, in 2013.

Hunt’s 9-year-old daughter tried to call 911, but didn’t know she needed to dial 9 to reach an outside line. County Fire Chief Tom Coe, along with Jack Markey, director for the county’s Emergency Management division, said in previous meetings county officials would educate hotels and motels about adding the infrastructure for phone lines so dialing extra keys aren’t needed for an outside line.

Enforcing the law would be a last-resort move, Coe and Markey said—as hopefully, education would cause businesses to update their phone systems.

Council members also approved an amendment to bill that allows more flexibility for the county’s Board of Appeals to approve variances for properties for nonconforming structures.

Due to an administrative error, Keegan-Ayer added an amendment to the bill that stated variances could not be granted to homeowners who build a porch, enclose a porch or construction stories above a porch—given in each scenario, the structure would be nonconforming or fail to meet existing setbacks.

Councilman Jerry Donald (D) asked if either a porch screen or storm windows would constitute closing the porch. Mike Wilkins, the county’s director of the Department of Development and Review, said a porch screen would not equal an enclosure.

But Tolson DeSa, the county’s zoning administrator, said storm windows would meet the standard for enclosure.

"When a structure is walled, then it would need to meet the setbacks for [that] zone … when you look at glass or lumber, that’s enclosing the structure," DeSa said.

Before the amendment substantially changes the bill, it will come back for another public hearing, which is scheduled for next week.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

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