Columbia’s AAA Car Care Center – The Issue Isn’t Competition””
Brian England, Mon, Sep 23, 2013
Background: As many Howard County residents may know, Columbia is a planned community with many covenants that guide community development. One of the key covenants limits the amount of retail allowed for businesses in industrial parks. Covenants are negative in as much as they take away some freedom, but they are also positive because they set a standard, and this adds value. There is currently a plan to build a AAA Car Care Center which is in direct conflict with Columbia’s covenants. AAA certainly has the right to build a repair facility, but they do not have the right to have 50% of their building retail, travel and insurance services, which is close to three times the amount permitted by the covenants.
Brian England, the president of BA Auto Care, along with other area businesses, has been opposed to this flagrant violation of the covenants and has been actively challenging it in court in order to preserve the integrity and spirit that makes Columbia the wonderful community that it is today. This blog article reflects on the progress of that court challenge.
The stage is set. The court has assembled. The Howard County Court of Appeals, now whittled down to three members, is ready to hear the case. After 35 questions it is time for Sang Ho to question me. The honor is mine. I have seen Sang in action, very intimidating, so I am ready for some special questions, but he shows me my blog! My blog is famous. It is exhibit J or was it K, and the comment is, “Mr. England, this case is all about competition.” ???
My goodness! Amazing! They have read my blogs and this is what they think I have been concerned about. “Competition!”
Either they have comprehension problems or my blogs are crap in getting my point across. Blogs and letters to the editor are all for nothing. Sang Ho, a leading attorney in Howard County, thinks I would spend all this time, energy and thousands of dollars because another automobile shop wants to open in Howard County. In 35 years of business I have seen a dozen automotive shops or more come and go in Howard County. The idea that a 5000 square foot automotive shop crammed into a space by a hotel next to a strip mall with restrictive access and hardly any parking is competition is crazy.
No Sang, it is not about competition. It is about the city I have lived in for 40 years. It is about our planned community, the city your clients could not care less about. It is about a first class community with first class industrial parks, shopping centers, beautiful parkways, 90 miles of pathways, and many types of housing. All this makes our community first class.
Columbia has maintained this position because of one thing and one thing alone, COVENANTS. Yes, restrictive covenants come with some loss of freedom, but in return we get a first class community.
The co-opted court, controlled by the administration’s attorney, ignored all this and said I do not have “standing” to have my day in court. [Standing is the legal term for the right to initiate a lawsuit. The party initiating the suit must be sufficiently affected by the matter at hand.] They say because I can only just see the property and could not be affected by sound from the property that I do not have “standing”. So that is their standard? Ok, but wait a minute. Last week the owner of Exxon just across the street in sight and sound of the property was also denied standing. At that moment I knew that “someone has their thumb on the scales of justice.”
Here I am trying to stand up for the very thing that makes our community a planned community, and our administration is doing everything in its power to stop me from making my case.
Sang, you said “You should be going to court to have the covenants enforced.” Well yes, you are right. We know that, and that is what we are going to do next.
In the meantime, here at BA Auto Care, we’ll keep doing what we do to provide our customers with the most outstanding automotive repair service we can…. because in the real world, that’s how we really address the “competition”.
Footnote on “Standing”: In Howard County, standing has been very strictly applied; there are three parts to it: 1)in sight , 2)in hearing distance , and 3)especially aggrieved. But the Maryland standard is a lot different. Here are the details..
The Court of Appeals has observed that the requirements for administrative standing under Maryland law are not very strict [Sugarloaf v. Dept. of Environment, 344 Md. 271, 686, A.2d 506, 613 (1996)], and that the threshold for establishing oneself as a party before an administrative agency is indeed low. As the Court of Appeals explained, the format for proceedings before administrative agencies is intentionally designed to be informal so as to encourage citizen participation. We think that absent a reasonable agency or other regulation providing for a more formal method of becoming a party, anyone clearly identifying himself to the agency for the record as having an interest in the outcome of the matter being considered by that agency, thereby becomes a party to the proceedings [Sugarloaf, 344 Md. at 286, 686 A.2d at 521].