Board denies businessman's bid to rezone repair site

January 23, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

A Mount Airy man who serviced his business fleet vehicles out of a garage next to his home for 10 years has lost his gamble to legitimize the operation with a new zoning category.

George W. Brown, owner of two Ellicott City businesses, sought to have the zoning of his 6-acre site on West Watersville Road changed from rural conservation to rural business, a category created in the 1992 comprehensive rezoning of western Howard County.

Although the zoning was created in part to provide a way for homebased businesses to become legitimate, Zoning Board members decided that Mr. Brown's operation did not fit the new regulations, said board Chairman Paul Farragut.

In a Wednesday night work session, County Council members sitting as the Zoning Board voted unanimously to deny the petition. The decision will not be final until board members sign a written order, which sometimes takes several weeks after a work session vote.

When he filed the rezoning petition, Mr. Brown said he was "sticking his neck out" because county zoning authorities were unaware that he had been running the repair shop for 10 years in violation of zoning regulations.

The board's decision is likely to discourage other business owners in the west from exposing their necks to the zoning authorities' ax, said Mr. Brown's attorney, Thomas M. Meachum.

"Certainly, any contractor would have to think twice about going through that process, bringing their operation to the attention of the government and then being told that they cannot continue their operation," Mr. Meachum said.

On June 24, Planning Board members recommended denial of Mr. Brown's petition, saying the operation did not serve the rural community as the rural business category was intended to do.

The 35 vehicles repaired on the property are used in the two

businesses Mr. Brown owns, Atlantic Air Conditioning and Heating Inc. and Pine Orchard Liquors, and one in which he is a partner, Total Construction Services. All three are based in Ellicott City, although Mr. Brown presented a list of west county customers to the Zoning Board.

At that hearing and a Dec. 8 Zoning Board hearing, Mr. Brown's petition was opposed by several of his neighbors, who said they worried about future activities on the property and they resented his 10 years of illegal operation.

Mr. Farragut said the Zoning Board also addressed the question of what the new zoning would allow. The zoning category includes such facilities as an auction house or a welding shop.

Planning Board and Zoning Board members questioned whether repairing the 35 vehicles in Mr. Brown's fleet met the requirement of serving the local community.

Mr. Meachum and Mr. Farragut agreed that the regulations might need some clarification.

"Maybe they aren't as well-defined as they ought to be," Mr. Farragut said.

Mr. Meachum noted that the three reviewing bodies -- the Department of Planning and Zoning, the Planning Board and the Zoning Board -- had different interpretations of what the zoning allowed.

"If it's possible for those three agencies to have such a different interpretation of the zoning, I think it's obvious that the regulations need to be revisited," Mr. Meachum said.

Mr. Meachum said he will not know whether the ruling will be appealed to Howard County Circuit Court until the board issues its written decision.

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