Crazy Ape started out as a simple idea to make a few bucks and sell a few snow cones, which are heaps of crushed ice covered with flavorings and sold in a paper cone.
But in the heat of the summer, it has turned into a controversy involving two small-time entrepreneurs, several Columbia neighborhoods and a Howard County zoning ordinance that about 400 residents claim is coldly turning aside the wishes of the public.
Crazy Ape, the name of Susan Zynn's "snowball" stand on Oakland Mills Road near the intersection with Old Montgomery Road, lies on agriculturally zoned property.
Since it is a building used for commercial purposes, the county has given her 30 days to close up shop or face fines of up to $100 a day.
Both Zynn, 21, a college student from Columbia, and her partner, 27-year-old Chuck Ecker (a carpenter not related to the county executive of the same name) have gotten about400 people to sign a petition in support of their stand.
"I thinkit's kind of ridiculous. We're not hurting anybody, and I need the money for school," said Zynn, whose lack of money forced her to drop out of Indiana University in Pennsylvania last spring.
"A lot of people are mad. I get people who just drive up and say, 'I heard what'sgoing on. Where's the petition, I want to sign it,' " she said.
The petition, however, will do little for Crazy Ape's cause. With or without 400 signatures, there's no getting around the zoning regulation, which allows only produce to be sold on agricultural property.
Ecker, whose family owns the farm and has operated a produce stand onit for four years, said the snowball stand has earned $2,000 since it opened June 6.
"It's not that unlike a produce stand, really. The only thing that we can't make ourselves is the artificial flavors,"Ecker said. "It's not a big moneymaker, but it's something that helps us out and we're proud of it."
Amy McNeeley, a Columbia residentwhose 18-month-old daughter, Sara, is allergic to dairy products, said Sara "would be absolutely crushed if she lost her one refreshing treat."
McNeeley said she stops by the stand with Sara every night.
"It's a shame that it has to close down. It seems like they couldmake some sort of an exception," she said.
But county officials -- who received a complaint about the stand from a citizen -- say the law's the law, no exceptions.
The confrontation between residents and zoning officials is a classic one.
Invariably zoning regulations force the closing of the occasional hot dog or snowball stand thatstrays into the wrong "zone."
County officials, however, maintainthat they are not the bad guys and defend the order to shut down thestand, which they say creates heavy traffic along Oakland Mills Roadand may pose a safety hazard for motorists.
"We've got a concern above and beyond the regulations," said William O'Brien, the county'schief of zoning administration and enforcement.
"This stand does represent some problems. I'm not sure I would want my neighbor setting up a snowball stand and creating that kind of traffic and safety problems in a very busy area."
The stand does a healthy business, and most of the customers have gotten to know Zynn on a first-name basis.
Accordingly, many have an opinion about her struggle to keep itopen.
"An enterprising kid found something to do that makes everyone happy, and the county government just says, 'To hell with all of you,' " said Stuart Goldman of Columbia.
After hearing about the stand's closing, Goldman wrote a letter of protest to Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray.
"It probably won't do any good, though," Goldman said.
Zynn said she will attend Howard Community College in the fall and, finances permitting, may transfer to the University of Baltimore next year.
Donald Reed of Hampstead is a superintendent of a road crew that buys 15 to 20 snowballs a day at the stand.
"The county's giving her the runaround," Reed said.
"It doesn't seem right that they give someone a hard time about something as harmless as this."