Argument with nine holes in it Golf: Opposition has trouble proving Loch Raven 'academy' unsuitable for rural area.

October 11, 1997

GOLF IS A PASTORAL GAME, which is why golf courses are acceptable permitted uses in agricultural areas. They require the vast acreage of the countryside but do not interrupt its character. For all the fuss made about the chemicals used to keep greens green, the fertilizers and sprays used in farming pose a greater environmental threat.

Yet in recent years, golf projects -- which in most places are subject to a hearing -- have been fought as bitterly as more intense development. The case against them usually involves the predictable villains, traffic and pollution, but opponents rarely produce enough evidence to win the argument.

A recent dispute involving a semi-private, nine-hole course and golf "academy" near Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County seems to be following that pattern.

Last spring, a county hearing officer ruled in favor of the $5 million project (with restrictions) after residents failed to provide sufficient data to support concerns about traffic and pollution. Baltimore City officials later chimed in with fears about the impact on the watershed, even though their own Pine Ridge Golf Course sits right on the reservoir. The case is now before the county Board of Appeals, which has yet to rule. However, the arguments on the critical issues seem to favor developer Clark F. MacKenzie.

The opponents' best argument -- that the plans involve more than a golf course -- is still flawed. The law defines a course as links, a country club and other appropriate facilities. The board .. must decide whether a golf museum and 120 practice tees qualify as the latter.

Citizens have focused on the practice tees, arguing that they make this a driving range, which is not permitted in agricultural zones. Their position would be stronger if the proposal looked like most driving ranges, which are entertainment centers with batting cages, arcades and miniature golf. But Mr. MacKenzie's project features only golf. Unless residents can argue more persuasively regarding impact on the community, the hearing officer's approval should hold up.

Pub Date: 10/11/97

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