The United Parcel Service's $13.5 million facility in Sparks has been processing 43,000 packages a day since opening in 1987, but Maryland's jurists are still arguing about whether it's legal.
And, the courtroom arguments in the 6-year-old legal battle are likely to continue. This week, the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland's second-highest court, ruled in favor of residents who say UPS is operating illegally because its site is really a truck terminal, not a warehouse. The vote was 2 to 1.
Carroll Holzer, who represents the residents, said his side was pleased with the court's decision.
"This is a very significant case because it goes to the validity and integrity of the zoning process," he said.
But Henry R. Lord, who represents UPS, said: "There never should have been a case in the first place."
The current legal battle stems from decisions made in 1985, when then-zoning commissioner Arnold E. Jablon gave UPS an informal opinion stating the company would not need any special zoning approvals because its business was a warehouse operation. The company had asked Mr. Jablon about its plans to build in a light-manufacturing zone.
On Oct. 28, 1986, the firm obtained a county building permit for a 36-acre tract in the Loveton Industrial Park, located in the 14400 block of York Road. Three months later, Paul Hupfer, a nearby resident, noticed the construction and complained to the county. Mr. Hupfer had been worried about increasing traffic and congestion.
Mr. Lord said his client had spent $5.5 million and completed 25 percent of its buildings before Mr. Hupfer complained.
Mr. Jablon replied to Mr. Hupfer and repeated his earlier decision. Mr. Hupfer then appealed to the county Board of Appeals, which decided in favor of UPS. He appealed that decision to the county Circuit Court, which ruled in favor of the residents. UPS then appealed that decision.
"It's kind of like a cosmic world series," Mr. Lord said of the dispute.
Mr. Lord said he would consult with his clients to see whether they will appeal to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals. If UPS does not appeal, or loses the subsequent appeal, it would have to seek a special zoning exception from the county. If the exception is not granted, UPS would have to stop using the complex as a truck terminal.
In the Court of Special Appeals' decision, Chief Judge Alan M. Wilner and Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr. ruled the residents could appeal Mr. Jablon's decision.
"The law does not . . . allow administrative error made in private to be encrusted with impregnable armor merely by the lapse of time," they wrote, adding that decisions made in private can be appealed when an error is discovered.
Judge Dale R. Cathell agreed with UPS' argument that since no one appealed the building permit within 30 days of its issuance, no appeal could be filed later. Also, he argued, the majority decision would require that a public hearing or a notice be given before any building permit can be issued. The real remedy, he said, was to try to halt construction.
"I fear that great economic damage will result" if the majority view prevails, he wrote.
Mr. Holzer said his clients never wanted the UPS building torn down. They only want to stop it from operating as a truck terminal without the required zoning exception.
"We're dealing with a use problem, not a brick-and-mortar problem," said Mr. Hupfer. "We want the removal of the trucking facility from our neighborhood."