Glider Issue Sails Back To Base

U.s. Supreme Court Returns Airstrip Problem To Zoning Appeals Board

May 26, 1991|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

After years of legal wrangling, the dispute over a glider-ride operation at a Woodbine airfield landed Friday where it began -- before county zoning administrators.

The lengthy, convoluted dispute was revived when arguments over a zoning permit for the grass airstrip on Gillis Falls Road were presented to the Carroll Board of Zoning Appeals.

On one side are airstrip owner Robert E. Harrison and Henry G. Gaudet, operator of the glider business. They say the county erredwhen it revoked the original permit in 1984 and issued a new one carrying several conditions.

They are opposed by residents who live near the airstrip and the County Commissioners. Opponents say that the glider business poses a safety hazard, is a threat to property values and disturbs nearby communities.

The airstrip's opponents are calling for revocation of the permit.

"We're not suggesting conditions," said John T. Willis, an attorney with the Baltimore law firm Weinberg and Green, which represents residents and commissioners. "We're asking you to turn down the application."

Harrison and Gaudet are requesting a permit without conditions, like the one revoked in 1984.

"The application should be granted exactly as it was in 1984 with the exception of the conditions," said William B. Dulaney, an attorney with the Westminster law firm Dulaney, Scott, Rasinsky & Leahy, which is representing Harrison and Gaudet.

"(The opponents) have argued no issue . . . that would give thisboard a basis for turning this down," Dulaney said Friday. "We're not here for the purpose of reopening the whole case."

For the past eight years the dispute has been mired in the state court system. Last summer the residents group -- Woodbine Concerned Citizens -- took its case tothe U.S. Supreme Court. But the nation's highest court refused the residents' request to hear an appeal of a decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which ruled counties couldn't impose airway restrictions.

The court's refusal to hear the case sent it back to the county zoning appeals board.

"You could write a book about this case," said Willis.

The case dates to 1972, when the county zoning board issued a permit to Harrisonfor operation of an airstrip on his 172-acre farm.

The glider-ride business, Bay Soaring Inc., started operating at Harrison's farm in1981. After numerous residents complained about noise and safety concerns, the zoning board revoked the 1972 permit.

Harrison and Gaudet protested the revocation of the original permit, but applied for another so Bay Soaring could continue operating.

The new permit carried conditions regulating flight paths, air traffic and hours of operation atthe airstrip.

Harrison and Gaudet took the matter to Circuit Court, charging that county zoning administrators had no authority to regulate airways.

A circuit judge put the new permit on hold until the appeal on withdrawal of the original permit was resolved.

In April 1990, after several rounds of legal sparring, the state's highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, ruled that thelower court erred when it upheld the county's authority to regulate air traffic by attaching conditions to an airstrip's zoning permit.

The court ordered the conditions struck and the case sent back to the zoning appeals board.

Then came the residents' petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This isn't going to be the end of it either," said Bernard Schwartz, a member of Woodbine Concerned Citizens, after Friday'shearing.

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