Green Spring Valley residents want fines imposed for helicopter landings in area

January 07, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Residents of exclusive Green Spring Valley might soon discover the only thing more irritating than a helicopter's buzz is the shuffle of the controversy from one Baltimore County bureaucracy to another.

The neighbors are angry because Rite Aide Corp. Chairman Martin L. Grass continues to commute daily to the company's Harrisburg, Pa., headquarters from a local property on which the flights are barred under zoning laws.

The residents will appear today before a county hearing examiner to protest the landings and push for fines that could total $2,400 against the owner of the property.

But Scott Barhight, an attorney for Dale Lucas, who owns Helmore Farms where Grass' helicopter lands, said yesterday that he plans to ask that the dispute be heard by a county zoning commissioner so he can argue that an airstrip already exists.

"Mr. Lucas always believed what he was doing was legal," Barhight said.

It's the latest move in a heated battle over landing rights in the pristine -- and restrictively zoned -- area west of Falls and Greenspring Valley roads. Grass continues to win, taking off each day around 8 a.m., frustrated neighbors say.

"I'm determined to see that the zoning is held up," said Deirdre Smith, who lives next to the Helmore landing site. "This is not the way the zoning was meant to be used."

Grass is negotiating with First Washington Management Corp. to lease a field behind the Valley Centre shopping mall on Reisterstown Road as an alternative landing site.

The proposal would allow Grass' $3.5 million helicopter to land adjacent to Interstate 795 near Sony's Valley Centre theater complex. While a decision is expected this month, theater manager Andrew Tamberino said landings would disrupt customers because of noise and wind.

Problems over the helicopter landings began in June and continued in late summer and fall. Prompted by neighbors' complaints, county zoning inspectors issued Grass citations that carried fines totaling $800 for using the agricultural areas zoned RC-2 as a helipad.

But in November, Grass' attorney successfully argued that inspectors wrote the wrong name on the citation -- and the matter was dismissed on a technicality.

Today's hearing before examiner Stanley Shapiro centers on Lucas and his agreement to allow Grass to use his farm as a landing site.

Barhight said he plans to request that the county zoning commissioner review the matter and determine whether a landing strip has existed at Helmore for years, as Lucas claims -- a claim neighbors dispute based on records from the Maryland Aviation Administration.

The entire matter could be heard again at a public zoning hearing in 30 days, Barhight said.

Grass' attorney, Thomas M. Wood IV, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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