Covenants and Kmart Columbia needs to protect integrity of its rules on aesthetics, even for a national chain.

July 29, 1998

IT IS understandable, but not excusable, that managers of a Kmart store in the Dobbin Center in Columbia would want to display lawn equipment and plants outdoors. Stores across the country, not to mention in shopping centers not far from Dobbin Center, do the same thing to attract walk-up customers.

But when the law says such displays are illegal -- and community covenants are the law in Columbia -- you can't simply choose to ignore it.

That's what Kmart chose to do. It put lawn tractors, swing sets and kiddie pools on display on the sidewalk in front of its store. Some days it also put a hot dog stand outside to supplement sales of food at its lunch counter inside.

The result contributed to sidewalk congestion, may have blocked access for the disabled and backed up parking-lot traffic when motorists tried to ogle what was for sale.

The Howard Research and Development Corp., a Rouse Co. subsidiary, reminded Kmart of a covenant that prohibits stores in Dobbin Center from soliciting business in the common areas of the development. When Kmart allegedly ignored the complaint, the Rouse Co. sued.

It would make sense to settle the litigation before it reaches court.

The case is similar to that of a recently publicized battle involving a Columbia resident who didn't think anything was wrong with storing an old trampoline in his yard. He wasn't allowed to violate the planned city's covenants concerning the appearance and upkeep of property, nor should he have been excused from the law.

The same goes for Kmart. It knew the rules when it decided to locate in Dobbin Center. If the conditions seem unfair, Kmart should try to get them changed.

The Rouse Co. should be willing to listen, too. It shouldn't want to lose its anchor in Dobbin Center.

A store's battle for market share in a competitive corridor doesn't justify ignoring the covenants that were established and known about long ago in Columbia.

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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