Neighbors go to court over helicopter Valley residents seek injunction to halt landings

January 15, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Fed up with bureaucratic delays of their attempts to ground the noisy helicopter of Rite Aid Corp. Chairman Martin L. Grass, Green Spring Valley residents have gone to court.

Yesterday, a group of neighbors from the valley sought an injunction in Baltimore County Circuit Court to halt Grass' daily commute in a $3.5 million chopper from Helmore Farm, near Falls and Greenspring Valley roads.

A Feb. 25 hearing has been set, said G. Macy Nelson, attorney for the neighbors.

Grass, who continues to take off from property protected by highly restrictive RC-2 zoning, has been commuting to Rite Aid's Harrisburg, Pa., headquarters since June. He moved into a $2 million estate in the valley three years ago.

Neighbors have urged county officials to stop the chopper, but officials have failed to make sanctions stick because of legal technicalities. Despite repeated citations from county zoning inspectors and letters ordering him to cease, Grass continues to take off daily -- most recently at 8 a.m. yesterday.

"Martin Grass with his lawyers and connections has continued to use his helicopter for seven months despite being told to stop three different times by the county," said Deirdre Smith, who lives on a 68-acre farm near the landing site. "Because the TTC system failed the community, we have had to hire and pay for a lawyer."

The request for an injunction states that Grass' helicopter "creates very loud and disturbing noises and vibrations" in the valley. One day last week, the helicopter hovered nearly 15 minutes over one house as it attempted to land in thick fog, neighbors said.

Included in the group seeking an injunction is the Valleys Planning Council, an influential county land preservation group, of which Grass is a member. Jack Dillon, executive director of the council, yesterday described the controversy as "a lawyer's game."

Dillon added, "It makes no difference whether we're dealing with a junkyard, a barking dog or a helicopter -- a nuisance is a nuisance. You would hope that reasonable people would be considerate of their neighbors."

Grass is negotiating to land the helicopter behind Valley Centre on Reisterstown Road, said an attorney for the shopping center. Another offer by neighbor Douglas Carroll for Grass to land the helicopter at 340 Pleasant Hill Road, five miles from his estate, has been ignored, Carroll said.

Grass said last year that he is not violating zoning laws.

Grass attorney Thomas M. Wood IV successfully argued in November that a zoning inspector had written the wrong name on citations calling for $800 in fines; hearing examiner Stanley Shapiro dismissed the citations.

Last week, Shapiro delayed a hearing on zoning violation fines totaling $2,400 against Dale Lucas, Helmore Farm owner, until the issue is considered by the zoning commissioner in a separate proceeding that could take place this spring.

Frustrated, the neighbors decided to take action on their own, Smith said.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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