Flying above the rules? Rite Aid chairman: Grass isn't getting special treatment, but county needs a solution.

October 16, 1997

NEIGHBORS ANGRY at Rite Aid Corp. Chairman Martin Grass for landing his helicopter near his home in the Green Spring Valley seem to have the law on their side. Baltimore County zoning regulations do not allow helicopter landings and takeoffs in agricultural areas.

However, neighbors are feeling a false sense of victimization. They say Mr. Grass is receiving special treatment because he's rich (an amusing contention, since they are wealthy, too).

Yet Mr. Grass has been inspected, cited and fined just like any other citizen who breaches the law. Complaining neighbors have been told to prepare to testify in court.

Baltimore County officials, including Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, are trying to find Mr. Grass a legal heliport. If that is special treatment, it is not a function of wealth.

The rich are not the only people whose businesses, hobbies and home improvement projects local governments sometimes seek to facilitate or bring into compliance.

There is no use pretending that corporate heavyweights are like the rest of us. They possess leverage. Their problems inextricably overlap with economic development because they have power over the placement of jobs.

No one, of course, is above the law, Yet there is nothing wrong with officials trying to settle disputes, legally and within acceptable limits, before an executive used to getting his way punishes other citizens by moving their jobs out-of-state.

The county must cite Mr. Grass if violations persist. His corporate position should not be at issue when his hearing for a special exception to operate an ''airport'' -- a permitted use in rural zones -- comes up next month.

But neither should officials be accused of kowtowing to a rich man if this case prompts changes in 50-year-old zoning rules. The use of helicopters by executives is growing; the need for acceptable landing sites is real.

Moreover, this case raises an interesting point: Why are airports permitted in extremely rural areas when helipads and heliports -- far less intense uses -- are not?

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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