Zoning lets businesses become legitimate WEST COUNTY -- Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

April 22, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

After 10 years of hiding his fleet repair operation behind neat rows of pine trees in western Howard County, George W. Brown is sticking his neck out.

If it doesn't get chopped off, he's hoping other business owners in the area will be able to legitimize their activities, too.

Mr. Brown is the first property owner to petition for "floating" rural business zoning that was enacted by the county Zoning Board in September.

"I'm one of these guys that's been hiding out there in the hinterlands as a nonconforming use, but this new zoning allows me to come out," said Mr. Brown, who filed a petition to change his 6.3 acres of rural conservation-zoned land this month.

Mr. Brown is waiting for county administration planners to review his request. He praised the proposed the new zoning category.

"It's another example of the county administration living up to its promises -- working hand-in-hand with business."

Mr. Brown was one of the business owners who lobbied for the new zoning, and because of his testimony, "heating and air conditioning" were added to the permitted businesses in zoning language proposed by county planners.

He is the proprietor of two businesses, Atlantic Air Conditioning and Heating Inc. and Pine Orchard Liquors, and a partner in Total Construction Services. All three are based on U.S. 40 in western Ellicott City.

The businesses have a fleet of 35 vehicles, which are serviced and repaired in one of three out buildings in front of his home in Mount Airy. Western growth-control advocates opposed the new zoning, saying it would make it easier to locate businesses in rural areas.

But John W. Taylor, president of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth, does not oppose Mr. Brown's petition. He said the request was "an isolated example," and not the kind of change he had in mind when he opposed its creation last year.

"I'm more concerned about the floating nature of the zoning, of introducing something new and unpredictable into a rural residential area," he said. "It can literally come as a bolt from the blue."

Mr. Taylor said that while he does not oppose the request, he has some questions about it.

"If there's been an ongoing zoning violation, I question whether it should be rewarded," he said, adding, "And where was zoning enforcement when all this was going on?"

Joseph W. Rutter, county planning and zoning director, explained that zoning violations are only investigated by zoning authorities if his department receives a complaint about them.

He said that the businesses allowed in the zone must be supporting agriculture or "a very, very, light industrial-type use, like lawn and garden equipment sales, service and repair, greenhouses and garden centers."

Unlike other types of business zoning, rural business requires more stringent buffering. For example, structure and use setbacks are 100 feet from a neighboring property line. In local business zoning, however, setbacks are 30 feet.

"Really, this is the prototype for the reasons behind creating the business rural zoning," said Thomas M. Meachum, the zoning attorney who will argue Mr. Brown's case before the Zoning Board.

"The idea that this [zoning category] could somehow negatively impact the community, I just don't see it, because the board could always turn them down."

Before the Zoning Board considers Mr. Brown's petition, however, county planners must complete their review and make a recommendation. Then the Planning Board must hold a hearing and issue its own recommendation.

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