Local officers of a Harrisburg, Pa.-based landscaping firm were eager to fix up a 7.2-acre farm they bought in Boyds earlier this year as their local headquarters.

They have spent months hauling away trash, creating a parking lot and installing fuel tanks.

But the company started work before receiving a zoning change from the Montgomery County Planning Board, which last week recommended denial of the firm's application for a special exception permit to operate a commercial landscaping center at the site.

"They went forward and anticipated the special exception," said Denis D. Canavan, a planning analyst for the county. "It's a bad precedent for other developers."

"It was a mistake on our part," conceded David C. Lindoerfer, area branch vice president of Davis Landscape Contractors Inc. of Harrisburg. "We started on some minor work, and then it got out of hand. I can understand the county's concern."

He said the owners of the property, all principals in the firm, requested this week that the county Board of Appeals delay making a final decision on the application until the firm can work out problems raised by neighbors and the planning board.

"We want to regroup and do some thinking," said Lindoerfer. "We're arranging meetings with neighbors so we can explain what we're going to do, rather than just go out and do it."

The owners, who plan to rent the property back to the company as its D.C.-area headquarters, applied for the special exception in February for the farm, which is already a registered Maryland nursery, he said.

The property, with an old farmhouse, pool and greenhouse, fronts Shiloh Church Road and is surrounded by other farms.

Shortly after filing the application, the owners cleared the property, added on to the garage, buried two fuel tanks, installed a fuel pump, gutted the house and installed a parking lot -- all with the appropriate work permits from the county, according to a planning staff report.

In its decision, the planning board noted the site is an area approved for commercial landscaping facilities but that the neighborhood is not used to commercial traffic.

Lindoerfer said the site would be used only for offices, plant propagation and storage and that the commercial traffic would be minimal.

About 14 people would work at the site, but would rarely all be there at the same time, he said.

"If they deny us after we work out concessions with the neighbors then I'll really be disappointed," he said.

"If something like this property is not approved as landscape property, then where are we to go?"