Carroll County pilot balks at limits on flights Airstrip owner calls restriction arbitrary

August 31, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Edward Primoff plans to battle the county in court for his right to fly as often as he wants.

With his personal airstrip, the owner of two planes and 219 acres in Woodbine has the ultimate in commuter convenience, but he claims the county's limit on flights unfairly infringes on his air time.

Primoff, a licensed commercial pilot with more than 30 years' experience, has the smaller of his two Cessna planes parked near the front door of his farmhouse, about two miles north of the Howard County line. The other, which can carry a pilot and six passengers, is temporarily at Carroll County Regional Airport.

To be airborne, Primoff has only to taxi down his driveway to a 50-foot-wide airstrip surrounded by fields of tall corn.

Before he could build the 1,785-foot-long grass strip, which is about 300 feet east of Route 97 and parallels the highway, he agreed to limitations imposed by the county Board of Zoning Appeals. The most onerous of the numerous restrictions limits flights to 120 annually, he said.

That number probably seems more than enough for those whose commuting is confined to roadways. But for Primoff, it is unacceptable, even un-American.

"It is a question of personal freedom," he said. "It has little to do with how many times I fly. It is the same position I have always taken: to defend property rights."

At a hearing in April, Primoff asked the appeals board to lift the 40-annual-flights restriction it had imposed a year ago. The number was too low for a two-pilot household -- his wife, Sue, is also licensed to fly. The couple produced evidence that showed flights generated minimal noise.

"Hardly anyone knows when I take off or land," he said. "They cannot see or hear. For almost a mile after I take off, I am still on my own property."

More than 40 neighbors had written letters or testified in support of Primoff, a Carroll resident since 1989 and the founder of the Carroll Landowners Association, a property-rights group.

"I can hear the plane once in a while, but it does not bother me," said Marie Sanner, who lives across the highway from the Primoff farm.

The board increased the annual flights to 120.

"There was no opposition and still the board felt it had to restrict the number of flights," he said. "How did they come up with 120? It was just a number they thought of."

Board chairman James Schumacher said the number was not arbitrary. The board increased the original number by three times, but will not allow unlimited flights, he said.

"We weighed the evidence and testimony in considering the applicant's need for more flights and gave a specific number for a valid reason," said Schumacher, who declined further comment until Primoff's suit is settled.

Primoff contends the county has imposed more restrictions on him than on any of the other seven private airstrips in Carroll.

"Of the seven private airstrips, I have nine restrictions, the most of any of the others," Primoff said.

He met all the design specifications and safety regulations imposed by the Maryland Aviation Administration, which requires at least 3 acres for an airstrip. Three other private airstrips in Carroll have only those state restrictions and no flight limits, he said.

The Primoffs can take no flights at night and can maintain only two planes at the farm.

"We are not objecting to having only two planes, but even that seems arbitrary," he said. "Suppose I collected antique cars. Would I be limited to two?"

He calls vague the restriction that "guest [planes] may stay on a temporary basis only."

"Does that mean they can fly in for lunch but not stay overnight?" he asked.

Primoff will live with the other restrictions, but he is determined to fight for countless flights. The case has not been scheduled, but he is confident he will prevail.

"Carroll County needs to learn it cannot violate people's property rights without just cause," he said.

Pub Date: 8/31/98

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