The Columbia Association Board of Directors voted last week to testify against Royal Farms' special request to erect a 15-foot high digital sign displaying gas prices along Snowden River Parkway in Columbia; saying the sign would be out of character for the community.

The CA board, who voted to approve the move 8-0, with one abstention and one absence, added their voice to a chorus of local groups opposing the proposed sign. The group includes the Owen Brown Village Board and the Howard County Independent Business Association.

Royal Farms' case to receive a special exception, called a variance, is scheduled to be heard by the Howard County hearing examiner on May 8.

The hearing examiner is an attorney appointed by the Howard County Council sitting as the Zoning Board to make rulings on various land use exceptions to the county zoning law.


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Howard County's Department of Planning and Zoning has recommended that the examiner not approve the variance. The report filed with the case says that Royal Farms should consider a sign lower to the ground that "conforms to the prevailing character of the corridor."

The board, which approved the move on April 24, decided to send a representative to testify on the seemingly small issue because some board members felt the sign represented a larger issue. Specifically, that the variance was the latest in a series of attempts to transform Columbia's economic landscape in a way that marginalizes the village center model.

"I see this as a bigger issue but this is the little piece of it in front of us. My perception is people outside Columbia have been transforming Columbia bit by bit by bit, chipping it off, bit by bit by bit," said Gregg Schwind, board member from Hickory Ridge.

"I think we really do have to focus on the small things because it's the small things over time that really transform a community into something we don't want."