Neighbors to testify on airport Zoning board to decide if Woodbine farmer can reopen glider port

September 13, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Residents opposed to the reopening of a Woodbine glider port will take the stand Wednesday in the longest-running zoning case ever heard by the Carroll Board of Zoning Appeals.

"Each person will speak about what is most important to them" when the case resumes Wednesday, said Woodbine resident Bernard A. Schwartz.

"For some, the issue Wednesday will be noise," said Schwartz, who has been fighting glider port operations in his neighborhood since 1984. "My specific concern is safety."

Two tow planes crashed at the glider port on Gillis Falls Road in the 1980s. In both incidents, the pilot and a 20-year-old passenger were killed. The first crash occurred June 18, 1982; the other, Sept. 14, 1986.

The airport operated without further incident until March 1997, when a glider crashed in a cornfield while trying to land. The pilot and a passenger suffered minor injuries.

The county closed the glider port after the crash, and the owner's son, Michael R. Harrison, 45, is seeking to reopen it.

Harrison presented his side of the case to the Board of Zoning Appeals on Aug. 26, saying he needs income from the glider port to keep his farm in operation.

"I'd like to have my airport back," he told the board. "I want to work with our community and get along. I'm here to try to work with the board and my neighbors."

But Schwartz, who lives about 500 yards from the glider port, sees little room for compromise.

Almost all the issues raised at a 1984 appeals board hearing on the glider port operation will be raised Wednesday, Schwartz said.

"I expect it to be a reiteration of '84," he said.

Litigation stretched out

After the 1984 hearing, the appeals board imposed conditions that Bay Soaring Inc., then the glider port operator, and Harrison's father found objectionable.

They sued, winning in Circuit Court but losing 12 years later when Schwartz won a countersuit.

Had it been his choice, Harrison told the board Aug. 26, he would have accepted the conditions imposed on his father in 1984.

"Looking back without lawyers, I would have taken what [the Board of Zoning Appeals] gave me the first time," said Harrison, who is presenting his case to the board without counsel. "I will make some of the restrictions [opposed in 1984] voluntarily. Whatever you give me, I'll be satisfied."

L But restrictions might no longer be acceptable to neighbors.

"If he is given a right to the airport, the board would be restricting what can happen on an adjoining piece" of property, Schwartz said. "You couldn't farm the fields, you wouldn't be able to subdivide, you couldn't even erect a silo. Because if you had a silo or tall trees at the end of the runway, the planes couldn't clear it."

A history of flight

Airplanes have been landing on the Harrison farm since the 1960s. They landed so often that a pilot asked Harrison's father, Robert L. Harrison, to consider opening an airport there.

The elder Harrison did exactly that, and on May 5, 1972, won permission from zoning officials to open a "private, commercial airport" on his 172-acre farm. The field was leased on weekends and twice during the week to a Baltimore sky-diving club. In 1980, it became a glider facility, using a grassy runway 1,650 feet long and 100 feet wide.

In his request to reopen the airport, Michael Harrison proposes extending the runway to 2,500 feet.

Opponents said Aug. 26 that Harrison's request should be denied because a portion of the airfield is in a conservation zone. Airports are allowed in agricultural zones -- which is the land use for most of the Harrison farm -- but not in conservation zones.

Documents introduced at the Aug. 26 hearing showed conflicting evidence. A zoning map showed a portion of the proposed runway in a conservation zone, but aerial photographs from the county planning department showed the runway entirely within an agricultural zone.

Since that hearing, county officials have discovered an early plat that shows the runway entirely within the agricultural zone. But the operations building is in the conservation zone.

If Harrison's request is approved, the operations building would have to be moved into the agricultural zone.

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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