Balto. Co. clears flights One daily round trip by helicopter allowed for Rite Aid chairman

Ruling angers neighbors

August 06, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County zoning commissioner allowed Rite Aid Chairman Martin L. Grass one takeoff and one landing each day in Green Spring Valley for his company's helicopter yesterday, despite the objections of neighbors in a dispute that has raged for more than a year and spans two states.

The roar of the chopper from Grass' daily commute to Rite Aid headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa., lasts 15 seconds -- not enough to create "detriment to the surrounding neighborhood," said Deputy Zoning Commissioner Timothy M. Kotroco.

The ruling angered Douglas Carroll, whose property abuts Helmore Farm near Greenspring Valley and Falls roads, where the company's $3.2 million helicopter takes off and lands.

"Money and influence talks, and this is the way communities are destroyed," Carroll said yesterday.

It's the latest legal twist in the fight over Rite Aid's helicopter, with the company embroiled in a dispute in East Pennsboro Township, near its Harrisburg offices, over a local noise ordinance passed because of the helicopter.

Company officials, who have challenged that ordinance in court, welcomed yesterday's Baltimore County zoning ruling.

"Martin Grass and Rite Aid have been sensitive to the neighbors' concerns," Rite Aid spokeswoman Sarah Datz said in a statement released yesterday.

G. Macy Nelson, attorney for Grass' neighbors, said, "This ruling has no legal significance. Kotroco ignored the law."

Jack Dillon, director of the Valleys Planning Council, an influential land preservation group involved in the effort to ground the helicopter, said the council will vote this month on whether to appeal to the Baltimore County Board of Appeals.

"We are extremely disappointed," Dillon said.

He added that the ruling chips away at the restrictive agricultural zoning used to protect valley land from development.

Grass, who moved to a $2 million estate in the valley in 1994, started landing in a cornfield near his house in June 1997, stunning neighbors who believed zoning prohibited helicopter takeoffs.

Their protests forced Grass to move his landing site to nearby Helmore Farm, where part-owner Dale Lucas claimed that an airstrip created in a corner of the 87-acre farm in 1955 would accommodate the helicopter.

Kotroco's ruling includes a restriction that holds Grass to one round trip from Helmore daily.

He ruled that the existence of the Helmore airstrip allows for a helicopter landing in the restrictive-zoning area.

He based that ruling on the definition of "aircraft" from Webster's Dictionary, which includes helicopters.

In granting the special exception, Kotroco said he considered the location of Helmore -- on the rim of the Green Spring Valley near busy, commercial Greenspring Station.

"It is located where the flight pattern comes in near Interstates 695 and 83 -- heavily traveled highways," Kotroco said. "If the property were located next to a bird sanctuary, it can have an effect. In the middle of the valley, we might look at it more differently than on the perimeter."

Kotroco's decision leaves open the possibility that Helmore owner Lucas might be liable for fines totaling $4,800 for helicopter landings that occurred before yesterday.

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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