Tempers fly at airstrip hearing Woodbine farmer wants unrestricted flights for 2 planes

March 29, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The reprise of the Woodbine airstrip drama being played before the Carroll County Board of Zoning Appeals offers some of the best entertainment county government can provide.

The accusations, the name-calling, the rancorous shouts were as fresh Friday as when this neighborhood drama began seven months ago.

The plot -- which included the appearance of County Commissioner Richard T. Yates and featured Westminster airport manager Steve Howard Brown as a star witness with stunning testimony -- is deceptively simple:

Woodbine farmer Edward Primoff wants the board to allow unlimited takeoffs and landings at the grassy, 1,785-foot-long airstrip on his 208 acres.

When the board gave Primoff permission to build the airstrip in August, it restricted the use to 40 daylight trips a year by Primoff's two single-engine planes.

The restrictions "are clearly my fault," Primoff told the board Friday. "It was my stupidity not to examine what I do" as a pilot.

The problem, he said, is that when he told the board Aug. 27 that he had logged 35 flights the previous year, he did not take into account that his wife also is a pilot.

She has not flown for two years but will be flying at the end of the year, he said.

Board member Karl V. Reichlin wanted to know how many flights he would like authorized, .

"I want it unrestricted," Primoff said.

"How many?" Reichlin asked again.

"Unrestricted," Primoff repeated.

After noting that his is the only airstrip in the county to have restrictions, Primoff called Yates to ask whether, in his role as president of the Board of County Commissioners, Yates thinks the restrictions are necessary.

"If that is the mode of transportation for that person, no restrictions are necessary," said Yates, a pilot who uses an Eldersburg airfield owned by longtime friend Hoby D. Wolf. Yates appointed Wolf to the Board of Zoning Appeals last year.

Refusal to recuse

People who opposed Primoff's plans in August want the restrictions to remain. They focused first on Wolf -- who is a pilot, has a grassy airstrip on his Eldersburg property and is a friend of Primoff's. They wanted Wolf, who did not participate in the Aug. 27 decision, to recuse himself, but he refused.

"It is impossible for any person on this board not to have friends," Wolf said. "Mr. Primoff is one of my friends," as were others present. "For the record, we have had no financial dealings, no passage of money."

Further, Wolf said, his knowledge of aviation "is probably as good as anybody in this room." He would not recuse himself, he said, and invited "anyone in the room" to prove he should be disqualified.

Slow-growth advocate Carolyn Fairbank, chairwoman of the Freedom Area Planning Council and a frequent foe of Wolf and Primoff in land-use battles, accepted the challenge.

Not only are the two men friends, she said, but Wolf is a member of the Carroll County Landowners' Association, which Primoff founded to protect farmers' property rights.

"It is very clear that you cannot be unbiased in this case," she told Wolf.

"Can you prove that I am a member?" Wolf asked. "Where's your proof?"

"I'm not going to stand here and argue with you," Fairbank said. "You know you're a member."

'Lost its integrity'

The two continued to shout at each other simultaneously until board Chairman James Schumacher gaveled them to silence.

"It's obvious this board has lost its integrity," Fairbank said before leaving abruptly.

"We have no power to make a member [of the three-member board] recuse himself even if we recommend that he recuse himself," Schumacher said.

Schumacher told opponents -- who had asked for a postponement to prepare their case, that he would hear from Primoff and allow them to make their presentation April 27.

The postponement request was "unnecessary and unfair," Primoff said, "because the only opposition is from people who live a substantial distance from me. My neighbors are for it."

His neighbors support his plans "not because they think I'm such a great guy," Primoff said, "but because they like green space." The alternative would be to develop the property, which neighbors don't want, he said.

The three issues raised by opponents -- noise, safety and property values -- are not problems at his field, Primoff said.

Airplanes are the safest mode of transportation, he said, and property values increase rather than decrease near airfields.

Takeoffs videotaped

Primoff sought to deal with the noise issue by videotaping takeoffs at the Westminster airport. He wanted the board to see and hear airplanes similar to his taking off and compare the noise with traffic, which he also videotaped.

When Brown, the airport manager, saw Primoff with his video camera in an airport field, he became alarmed and asked what he was doing, Brown testified. When Primoff said he was trying to record noise levels, Brown volunteered to provide statistical information on airplane sound.

Brown's conclusion: "One hundred feet away from the runway [at Primoff's airstrip] there would be no impact whatsoever even if there were 100,000 flights a year."

Chairman surprised

Schumacher, the board chairman, expressed surprise. "I have to write that down," he said. "Would you repeat it?"

"Those two aircraft [owned by Primoff] could have 100,000 flights a year with no impact on anyone," Brown said.

"That's truly amazing," said the Rev. James F. W. Talley, a Woodbine resident opposed to unlimited flights at Primoff's airfield.

"I congratulate you," he told Primoff.

Talley, pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg, had sought the postponement. He will have his chance for rebuttal April 27.

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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