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Columbia couple allowed to operate flea market on former drive-in site


A Columbia couple may create a flea market on the former site of the Elkridge Drive-In as long as they comply with a dozen restrictions on the operation, the Board of Appeals decided Tuesday.

In a unanimous vote, the board granted Barry Mehta and his wife, Dr. Charu Mehta, a special exception to operate a flea market on their 17-acre property off U.S. 1 near Bonnie View Lane.

The Mehtas won approval for their plan over the objections of a group of neighbors who said the flea market is unnecessary and would attract traffic, noise and unwanted people to the area.

The Mehtas want to operate the flea market during the next four years to finance start-up of a retirement community they want to build on the property.

They also want to donate money to local charities and to Grace Episcopal Church in Elkridge, to which they belong, and use earnings from the flea market to help offset property taxes on the site.

Under the restrictions imposed by the appeals board, the flea market may operate from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. during weekends from April through mid-November.

The couple will not be able to operate the flea market during the rest of the year and must seek re-approval in November 1995, when the board will decide how often the Mehtas must re-apply for a special exception.

Before the Mehtas can open the flea market, they must pave or apply an asphalt preservative to the parking lot, build entrance and exit lanes, build permanent toilets, install a temporary snow fence on the south and front boundaries and enclose the flea market's trash area. No lights or amplified sound will be allowed.

Although Mr. Mehta was pleased to gain approval for the flea market, he said he is worried that the flea market may not be worthwhile because of the cost of complying with those restrictions.

"I hope it comes to a point where the whole thing makes sense," Mr. Mehta said.

Residents who oppose the flea market said the conditions are not enough to ensure that the Mehtas will maintain the property satisfactorily.

Ronald Tilkins, a Montgomery Woods resident, had wanted more rigorous restrictions, including requiring a paved parking lot, more extensive roadwork and a chain-link fence along the boundaries.

"I don't think there's enough conditions put on," Mr. Tilkins said. The asphalt preservative "is of absolutely no value, and the snow fence won't even do the job of controlling trash," he said.

The Mehtas say they will run a neat and orderly flea market.

"I think their concerns are legitimate," Mr. Mehta said.

"We share that concern. We're very sensitive to the surrounding community."

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