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Maryland B&B owners ordered to stop violating zoning laws

If you're the owner of a small business, you might assume what you do on your own property, provided that the activity itself is legal, is up to you. But zoning and land use laws don't always jibe with that notion. There are limits to the business you can conduct if the land underneath or around it isn't zoned for that purpose.

Take for example the case of a bed and breakfast located in Queen Anne's County, Maryland. For some time now the B&B's owners have been holding weddings and receptions on their 19-acre property, and with seemingly good reason. The sprawling estate boasts striking architecture, breathtaking views of the Chesapeake Bay and plenty of rooms for wedding guests. At first sight, the B&B seems like an ideal place to hold a wedding.

The problem is that the area isn't zoned for such activity. The heavy traffic (including the trucks and buses of catering, music and other wedding vendor companies) and loud music is disturbing to neighbors of the B&B, and despite numerous complaints, citations, cease-and-desist orders and a lack of permits to hold the events, the B&B owners continued to advertise their services and take wedding reservations.

But on June 25 a Circuit Court judge upheld a decision last February by the Board of Appeals prohibiting weddings and other large-scale events on the property. The owners were ordered to stop holding the events, correct any county code violations and pay for their own attorney fees and other court costs.

The decision resolved two separate civil suits, one filed by neighbors and the county to stop the B&B from holding more events. The second was an appeal by the owners, who disagreed with the original Board of Appeals decision and claimed they were mistreated. They argued that they should be allowed to hold the events because other B&Bs do. The Circuit Court judge answered that possible violations by other businesses didn't justify an allowance for this B&B's owners.

Other business owners can learn a lesson from this case about zoning laws, which can be complicated. Before you make a decision about where to locate your company, you may want to consult with a business law attorney to ensure that all of the business you plan to conduct is legally allowable in the location's zoning district. The overall success of your business may very well depend on it.

Source:, "B&B decision upheld by court," Shauna Thompson, July 10, 2012

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