Fines for helicopter noise thrown out on technicality Green Spring Valley case to be filed again

November 13, 1997|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's attempt to bring peace to Green Spring Valley stalled yesterday, when a hearing officer threw out $800 in zoning citations against a corporate executive who has angered neighbors by landing his helicopter in a residential area.

The decision -- based on a technicality -- left zoning officials vowing to file new complaints against Rite Aid Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Martin L. Grass, who uses the helicopter for his 20-minute commute to the company's Harrisburg, Pa., headquarters.

"I have no doubt he is in violation," said Arnold Jablon, director of the Department of Permits and Development Management. "The whole idea here is to get him to stop landing his helicopter.

"If he continues to land it, I'm not going to give up. We're not going to stop. If it means taking him to the Supreme Court of the United States, that's where I'm taking him," Jablon said.

Grass, meanwhile, insists he is not violating county zoning laws and rejects the idea that his helicopter commute creates a neighborhood nuisance.

"I've heard from thousands of neighbors who have no problem with it at all," said Grass, 43, who moved to Lutherville three years ago. "The only [complaints] were the ones I read about in the newspaper, and I'm really not concerned about them."

The squabble in the exclusive community began in June, and has even drawn the attention of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Economic Development Director Robert L. Hannon, who have tried to help Grass find a new, legal landing site in another part of the county.

Rite Aid has a huge data-processing center in Hunt Valley and a drugstore distribution center in Harford County.

Grass was accused of violating county zoning laws that prohibit helipads in RC-2 zones, the county's highly restrictive agricultural area.

Grass originally directed his private pilot to begin landing the copter in a field at Greenspring Avenue and Hillside Road. But he changed the location last month to Helmore Farms, a thoroughbred breeding operation at 901 Greenspring Valley ,X Road.

After neighbors complained in September about the Hillside Road landings, county zoning inspectors responded by issuing the zoning citations against Grass and his wife, Jody. Each of the four violations involving Hillside would have carried a $200 fine.

Yesterday, however, County Hearing Officer Stanley Shapiro declared the citations void after Grass' attorney, Thomas M. Wood IV, argued that county zoning inspectors listed the wrong address on the citation.

That ruling came despite eyewitness testimony at the 30-minute hearing from a neighbor who said she sees Grass' helicopter take off from a nearby property nearly every morning.

County officials conceded their error. But Zoning Inspector Lavette Bannerman said she would file new complaints in the correct form, and threatened to slap Grass and the owner of Helmore Farms with zoning citations if the helicopter lands in the RC-2 zone again.

Yesterday's hearing left many neighbors frustrated. They say they have had enough of the helicopter noise they hear nearly every morning and afternoon.

"It's legal smoke and mirrors," declared Richard B. Buck, president of the board of the Valleys Planning Council, a preservation group that opposes Grass' takeoffs.

Said Steve Howard, who owns property near the current landing site: "The problem is that people have fought so hard to keep highways out of the area, and we just can't allow the area to turn into a helicopter superhighway,"

Deirdre Smith, the lone witness against Grass, vowed to fight on.

"I'm disgusted with the whole process," she said, "and the lack of teeth that the Baltimore County zoning laws have."

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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