Auto repair shop sputters in bid for new zoning Grumblings about years of illegality

June 25, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

If George W. Brown was sticking his neck out when he became the county's first applicant for rural business zoning, his Mount Airy neighbors showed up at yesterday's Planning Board ready to unlatch the guillotine.

"Every one of the neighbors has had trouble with him," said Dennis Wallace, who owns a welding shop on five acres next door to Mr. Brown's six-acre property.

Although Mr. Wallace is himself a business owner, he told Planning Board members that he resented Mr. Brown's operation of an auto repair shop for 10 years in violation of his rural or three-acre minimum lot residential zoning classification. Mr. Wallace said he had to go through "a lot of heartache" to obtain manufacturing zoning for his own business, while Mr. Brown was allowed to operate illegally.

Mr. Brown is a member of an untold number of business owners who use their residential property in western Howard for business purposes, explained Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of planning and zoning. The new rural business zoning category, enacted by the Zoning Board in September, was aimed at giving those businesses a chance to legitimize themselves, she said.

But Planning Board members, fearing that Mr. Brown's property could be used for a number of other things, including an auction house, voted 4-0 to recommend that the Zoning Board deny the rezoning petition.

Thomas Meachum, Mr. Brown's attorney, said that, while he was disappointed with the recommendation, "it's clear that the Planning Board has a problem with the regulations . . . which could result in the denial of any business requesting a business-rural zoning." He said he anticipates that the Zoning Board, which wrote the regulations, will approach the case with a better understanding of the new zoning category.

Other neighbors, such as Ron Reese, expressed dismay over the discovery that Mr. Brown was, in fact, in violation for so many years and the county did nothing to stop him.

If zoning officials are so inattentive, how could neighbors be sure that the business would remain within the prescribed 30,000 square feet limit? neighbors asked.

"My only concern is, what next?" asked Charles Ridgely, who, like Mr. Reese, lives on property to the southwest of Mr. Brown's.

County zoning authorities have pointed out that zoning is usually enforced only after someone files a complaint about it.

Mr. Brown's three neighbors called the county government to ask about the three outbuildings as they were built on the property, and each time were told "he had a permit for it and he was using it for his own personal use," Mr. Wallace said.

Mr. Brown is the proprietor of two businesses, Atlantic Air Conditioning and Heating Inc. and Pine Orchard Liquors, and he is a partner in Total Construction Services. All three businesses are based on U.S. 40 in western Ellicott City. The businesses have 35 vehicles, which are serviced and repaired in one of three out buildings in front of his home.

The Planning Board will issue a written recommendation to the Zoning Board, which will schedule its own hearing and decide whether to grant or deny the petition.

The board is in the midst of comprehensive rezoning of the eastern county, and it will probably be several months before it hears the Brown case.

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