The quiet, rural community on Pfefferkorn Road in West Friendship hasn't been quite so peaceful since Robin and Patrice Davidson decided in 1993 to build their home there -- along with an attached two-seat beauty parlor.
Their neighbors -- who opposed the Davidsons' home-based salon from the start -- now say they're in the awkward position of having to police it because the county does not regularly check such operations.
And the Davidsons, who say they only wanted to work together while schooling their four children at home, continue to fend off criticism they hoped would subside after they received a special zoning exception in 1993 to start the business.
"The root of all this is that our immediate neighbors really just don't want us here," said Mrs. Davidson, whose shop, Revelations in Hair Design, has been open since June 1995.
The shop is the focus of a long-running dispute that has poisoned relations in the neighborhood.
From the beginning, neighbors fought the Davidsons' proposal for a special zoning exception allowing a beauty parlor in the residential area.
Even after the county Zoning Board approved the shop in July 1993, neighbors continued to fight it, taking their opposition to the county Board of Appeals and eventually losing.
The most recent flap involves the Davidsons' 2-by-3-foot business sign, which was illuminated by a 75-watt floodlight on each side in their yard.
The Davidsons obtained the proper sign permit but misinterpreted a clause in the special zoning exception agreement that prohibits any illuminated sign.
One of the neighbors filed a complaint with the county zoning department, which also cited the Davidsons for not having the correct number of trees shielding their parking lot from their neighbors' views.
The Davidsons have since taken steps to correct both problems, though they say the lights are needed to help patrons find the shop safely at night.
And they insist that, despite their neighbors' fears, they have no intention of turning their little shop into a high-volume commercial business.
Robert and Jane Colson, who have lived on the property next to the Davidsons since 1960, see the Davidsons' commercial venture as an intrusion on their privacy.
"The lights are always on," said Mr. Colson. "It aggravates me. If I wanted to live in the city, I'd move to the city."
Others argue that the county's lax regulation of in-home businesses forces neighbors to check up on neighbors, a role some resent.
"It automatically puts us in an adversarial relationship with our neighbor," said Jan Paper, whose house is behind the Davidsons'. "It's the neighbors complaining. It's almost as if we're spying on our neighbors."
Wayne M. Calbi, who also lives behind the Davidsons, voiced a similar sentiment.
"We didn't want this in the first place. Now the duty of policing the operation is in our lap," he said.
Howard County officials concede that they, like their counterparts in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, don't have enough staff to check home-based businesses on a routine basis. Instead, they respond to complaints from neighbors and others -- about 125 to 150 a year.
Tensions of the type described in West Friendship aren't unusual when someone in a residential area gets a special zoning exception to start a home-based business, according to Joseph W. Rutter, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.
The Davidsons say they have a hard time not taking their neighbors' opposition personally.
"This is how we feed and provide for our family. This is our sole source of income, not some hobby," said Mrs. Davidson. "They are jeopardizing our livelihood."
And they insist that they will keep their salon in operation.
"We love it here," said Mrs. Davidson. "It's the perfect setting for us to live and for the business. We wouldn't trade it for anything. Any harassment dims in comparison to the life we have here."