Upholding Columbia's Covenants

February 22, 1994

Columbia's covenants -- like contractual restrictions in many residential subdivisions -- are often the focal point of heated and prolonged community battles. Disturbing the aesthetics of a neighborhood can be a sensitive issue, indeed.

A neighbor wants a privacy fence where only split-rail fences are allowed. Another homeowner builds a deck too large. Yet another wants to paint his house pink, a definite no-no. Through it all, even though state law requires that all homeowners read a copy of the covenants before they buy, these rules are often viewed as unnecessary and intrusive.

Richard Colandrea doesn't like Columbia's covenants, nor did he like a recent ruling by the Howard County planning board.

Mr. Colandrea had asked the board to allow him to expand his home business. He operates a group home for the elderly and infirm in his Wilde Lake residence. Mr. Colandrea wanted to increase the number of residents at the home from eight to 15.

The planning board rejected his request, in part over concerns about adequate parking and Mr. Colandrea's vagueness about his plans.

The Columbia Association, meanwhile, acting on behalf of Wilde Lake village officials, has taken Mr. Colandrea to court because he failed to seek permission for his at-home business in the first place. Such permission is required by the Wilde Lake covenants.

So far, Mr. Colandrea has refused to submit the required form and has even gone so far as to equate his position with the rights of minorities: "These people are all disabled, and they're a protected class. That would be like saying all black people need a license."

Such remarkable overreaching by Mr. Colandrea certainly distinguishes his from the run-of-the-mill complaints and foot-dragging in most covenant disputes. In spite of the laudable aims of his business, however, Mr. Colandrea is dead wrong. Because Mr. Colandrea is operating a business in a residential neighborhood, he would face the same hurdles almost anywhere in Columbia, not to mention in many other communities.

Requiring that an in-home business conform to community standards is a safeguard for all residents of that neighborhood. This issue isn't about NIMBYism or the propriety of serving the elderly and infirm; it's about people honoring rules to which they agreed when they purchased property in a community with covenants.

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