Elkridge Deli in a Pickle HOWARD COUNTY

March 26, 1993

At first blush, delicatessen owner Thom Shea appears to deserve some compassion.

Mr. Shea is fighting Exxon Corp. over its plans to convert an Elkridge full-service filling station into a gas and mini-mart operation. Mr. Shea is afraid the mini-mart will cut into his own business, which sits across from the station on U.S. Route 1. We can sympathize with his concern.

Unfortunately for him, Mr. Shea is bucking something much larger than a major oil producer. It's called capitalism and the last time we checked, fair competition was not something being discouraged in this society. It is the consumer who ultimately benefits when market forces are allowed to take their course in such matters.

Despite that, it may be naive to suggest that a purist's approach to capitalism will prevail in the Shea-Exxon fracas.

The fact is, Mr. Shea has taken his case to the Howard County Planning Board, which will recommend to the county Board of Appeals whether Exxon should have the special exception it needs to build its mini-mart.

While nothing in the regulations governing either board allows them to consider Mr. Shea's arguments about competition, we are mindful that such consideration might creep into the process nonetheless. Mr. Shea may get his wish.

His best hope lies in regulations requiring the Board of Appeals to consider the impact of a gas station on traffic and the character of a community.

This would include stations that increase their pumping capacity, as Exxon intends to do at the Elkridge facility.

But unless this highly commercialized section of Route 1 quietly turned into a secluded residential community while we slept last night, it is doubtful that an expanded Exxon will have any appreciable impact on that area. The use of these regulations as a loophole to help Mr. Shea would be a perversion of the law. We hope it is avoided.

Still, given the David vs. Goliath image created by a small delicatessen owner's battle with a gargantuan corporation, Mr. Shea may engender some sympathy. Feeling sorry for one businessman, however, should not cause Howard County officials to do anything to discourage competition or undercut the consumer.

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