Field of Screams

April 25, 1994

The ever tightening squeeze on Carroll County's limited recreational facilities was underlined again this month with public squabbles over a proposed private indoor pistol range in Westminster and the disputed use of Mount Airy school ball fields.

The separate cases reflect the need for more comprehensive recreational planning in Carroll. The answers are not simple: the conflict between recreation needs and other public rights requires carefully studied case-by-case resolution.

In the case of a proposed shooting range on Westminster Pike near Md. 97, the demand for a firearms training facility clashes with the rights of nearby residents to safety and tranquility.

The entrepreneur wants a zoning variance to operate closer than the required 1,000-feet setback from residences. (A hearing is set for Wednesday.) Some neighboring homeowners and child-care centers are opposed. While safety and noise issues may be resolved within the indoor range, they fear illegal shooting at their homes and woods by range customers from the parking lot.

But other residents hope the regulated range will curtail the existing problem of illegal target practice in the vicinity; more people are acquiring handguns and need a controlled place to learn and practice safely, they argue. The county's inability to find an acceptable public firing range site has exacerbated the need for a private facility in Carroll.

Meanwhile, the struggle over Mount Airy ball fields by two youth leagues again illustrates the problems of the many jurisdictions overlapping that town. One group got Frederick County's approval to use new fields at Twin Ridge Elementary, another relied on the town's authority. The town government prevailed, then, in a mean-spirited act, cut off the water for the losing league's car-wash fund raiser.

The two leagues have since agreed to share the fields, but the demands of 700 Mount Airy ballplayers on too few diamonds is clearly overdue for resolution. Absent a countywide recreation plan, Mount Airy should unilaterally move to build more ball fields, and then fairly regulate their use by boys and girls, and by younger and older players.

As for the pistol range, the county zoning board should grant the setback variance only if the operator unequivocally commits to strict parking lot supervision to prevent unlawful shooting by patrons.

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