Airport noise zone expansion angers developer

July 23, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

For Earl Armiger, 200 feet could be the difference between developing 31 homes in Elkridge or losing more than $200,000, all because of a rare decision to expand Baltimore-Washington International Airport's noise zone.

When Armiger bought the 10-acre property off Dorsey Road in 1996, it was outside the zone, an area deemed too noisy for houses to be built. But the Maryland Aviation Administration changed the boundary in March, something Armiger says he wasn't aware of until he had begun plans for building.

The developer is outraged, saying he stands to lose more than $200,000 on pre-development site studies. He's appealing to the Board of Airport Zoning Appeals, asking for the right to build in the zone anyway. The board is scheduled to hear the case Oct. 16.

"We were well outside the noise zone," said Armiger, president of Orchard Development Corp. "I was assured by Howard County that we were safe and that [the zone] was, in fact, shrinking."

Now, "we basically have to go back and redo the engineering work," he said. "We've got a situation where the state has become a determinant for local zoning."

The noise zone cuts 200 feet into the proposed development, where Armiger wanted to build 11 of 31 homes. Armiger says the project is on hold until the issue is resolved. He doesn't understand why 200 feet should make such a difference.

Buyers would still purchase the homes, even in the expanded zone, he says: "It won't stop sales. It won't affect the price."

But aircraft noise has long been a sensitive issue for residents living in flight paths. Aviation administration officials worry that people might sue the state. If noise, measured at night and during the day, can reach 65 decibels, the area is included in the zone.

The aviation administration reviews the zone every five years.

"We consider things like the types of aircraft, times of flight, how much noise [the plane makes] and its destination," said Wayne Bryant, director for the administration's aviation, noise and abatement department. "Each aircraft leaves a different noise footprint."

With improved technology that makes planes quieter and tighter federal restrictions on aircraft noise, the zone has been shrinking. But a boundary can be moved out if flight patterns change, or if more or bigger planes fly over an area, said Sharon Terry, the administration's spokeswoman.

That's apparently what happened with the recent change in the zone, although administration officials won't comment on Armiger's case.

Aviation administration officials notified county planning and zoning offices of changes in the zone, as required. But Howard officials didn't notice the impact it would have on Armiger's plan.

Armiger discovered the problem while reviewing maps in the county office.

"I pointed it out, and we were stopped dead in our tracks," Armiger said.

"Unless you overlaid one [map] over another, you couldn't tell," said Joseph Rutter, head of planning and zoning. "But I'm making excuses. We should have caught it."

Rutter is sympathetic to Armiger.

"I understand the state's concern," he said. But "the fact [is] that if this project had been built six months ago, it would have been done by now."

State and local officials agree that by the time the noise zone maps are redrawn in 2003, the area likely will no longer fall in the zone, leaving Armiger to ask: "Who is the state protecting?"

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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