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County zoning officials force developer to shut down flea market


County zoning officials have forced a Columbia developer to close his weekend flea market until he complies with conditions of a special exception to operate the business.

Barry Mehta -- who was defeated Saturday in his bid for a seat on the Columbia Council -- must make these improvements before he can reopen the flea market:

* Submit a detailed plan to the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

* Screen a trash can, now surrounded by a see-through fence.

* Seek approval from the State Highway Administration for improvements to exit and entrance lanes.

* Pave or apply an asphalt preservative to a crumbling asphalt parking lot.

Even before it opened, the flea market encountered trouble when a group of Elkridge neighbors fought against it, complaining that the business would create traffic, noise and bring unwanted people to the area.

Despite the opposition, Mr. Mehta sought and received the special exception in June from the county Board of Appeals to run the flea market. But conditions in the exception required him to make improvements -- including installing permanent restrooms and better access to roads -- before he could open the business.

The improvements were not made when he opened the flea market April 2 at the former Elkridge Drive-In off U.S. 1 near Bonnie View Lane.

County zoning officials issued a 30-day zoning violation notice that day, giving Mr. Mehta and his wife, Dr. Charu Mehta, 30 days to comply with the conditions set forth in the special exception.

Last week, Mr. Mehta attempted to satisfy the zoning board by installing a fence along the south boundary of the operation and placing a 3-foot-high fence around a trash area. Workers also painted parking spaces for about 40 cars.

But zoning officials say Mr. Mehta flouted zoning laws by not meeting conditions before the business opened.

"He just basically thumbed his nose at the Department of Planning and Zoning," said director Joseph W. Rutter. "It's not fair to the community. It's not fair to the process" of granting special exceptions.

Mr. Mehta, who met with county zoning officials last week, said the zoning violation stemmed from confusion about a dozen restrictions on the flea market. "We didn't have a good clarification on it," he said.

Mr. Mehta also is having problems meeting requirements on an addition he's making to his house in Columbia's Oakland Mills village.

The Oakland Mills Architectural Committee issued a notice April 11 after Mr. Mehta failed to follow plans he had outlined when he applied for permission to change the exterior of his house.

The committee wants him to change some paint colors and make other changes. Mr. Mehta said he hoped to meet the stipulations by the end of this week.

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