Bright lights from a nearby convenience store have delayed this year's opening of the Bengies Drive-In, its owner says, and could threaten the future of Maryland's sole remaining outdoor theater.
D. Vogel, who has been running the drive-in his family built since 1988, says lights from a Royal Farms Store across Eastern Boulevard would interfere with his customers' view of the Bengies' 52-by-120-foot screen. He contends that the store is violating the county zoning code by not protecting his property from the lights and that Baltimore County officials are refusing to enforce their own rules.
"If they actually did what they were supposed to do ... there wouldn't be a problem," Vogel says. "If this county isn't going to protect me from this stuff, why do I want to be here?"
Baltimore County officials, however, say lights from the store do not violate the zoning code and would not seriously affect moviegoers' ability to watch the films at the 53-year-old Bowleys Quarters landmark.
"I felt that the lighting does not inappropriately spill into the Bengies Drive-In," says Timothy M. Kotroco, director of the Department of Permits and Development. "I don't think [viewers] are going to notice the Royal Farms while they're watching the movie."
An attorney for the Royal Farms Stores chain says the lights at the Eastern Boulevard store conform to Baltimore County code and his clients agreed to turn off lights that illuminated the building's roof, as a concession to Vogel's concerns.
"My client has complied with the requirements," attorney David Karceski says. "They submitted a lighting plan, Baltimore County approved the plan, and [Royal Farms Stores] made additional concessions."
Vogel had planned on opening for the season March 13, with Disney's Race to Witch Mountain, but canceled because of concerns over the lighting.
He has yet to set an opening date for the season; among other considerations, Vogel says, he might have to close off some spaces on his viewing lot because of interference from the store light. He said he expects to open no earlier than April 10.
"My business depends on darkness," he says. "They [county officials] know that. I've been here for 53 years. Why would they let those lights affect me?"