Md. asks Carroll Co. farmer to halt paint-ball games on preserved land 34 acres near Taneytown were target of undercover probe by state foundation

September 18, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County horse farmer has been asked to shut down a controversial paint-ball course on his property after an undercover investigation by the state Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation.

The state investigator found that William Hartman had been selling paint-ball pellets, guns and other game supplies on his 34-acre farm south of Taneytown. The land is part of the state's Agricultural Land Preservation Program.

"He was selling paint-ball supplies from his farm, which is not allowed. It was a commercial, nonagricultural use," said Craig A. Nielsen, assistant attorney general and attorney for the foundation. "The purpose of the easement is to preserve agricultural land. Paint ball is not an agricultural use."

Hartman, who was informed of the foundation's decision last week, has vowed to defend his right to play the fast-paced sport of carbon-dioxide-powered guns and splattering colored pellets. He said he would stop selling paint-ball supplies but would continue holding paint-ball games with family and friends.

"If other people are allowed to play football or baseball on their property, I'll be damned if I can't play paint ball on ours," he said.

Hartman's paint-ball games came to the attention of the foundation this year after one of Hartman's neighbors and state Sen. Larry E. Haines complained that the games violated the land-preservation program.

State law prohibits commercial, industrial or residential uses on state agricultural preservation land, but the laws are not as clear about other activities, such as recreation.

The foundation has allowed hunting, pony shows, dog shows and 4-H fairs on preservation land. But in the 20 years since the program began, the foundation has never decided whether uses such as a baseball diamond, football fields or, in this case, a paint-ball course should be allowed.

Last year, Carroll County granted Hartman a conditional-use permit to operate a commercial paint-ball course and paint-ball supply store inside one of his barns, on a 1-acre plot not included in the preservation program.

The store was operated by Hartman's son, Rick Hartman, who owns paint-ball supply stores in Westminster and Frederick.

The Hartmans also built a paint-ball course made of wooden fences, barricades and barrels on a 2-acre plot of preservation land. Because they did not charge players to use the field, it was not considered a commercial enterprise.

But a state investigator, going undercover as a paint-ball player, found otherwise.

The investigator was sold paint-ball supplies on agricultural preservation land -- not in the barn identified in the county permit, Nielsen said. The foundation concluded that this activity violated the preservation program guidelines.

William Hartman this week surrendered his county permit to operate the indoor paint-ball course and supply store. But he plans to keep the outdoor, noncommercial course.

Though the foundation is pleased Hartman will stop selling supplies on his preservation land, it is undecided about the larger issue of what types of activities -- other than farming -- should be allowed on foundation land, Nielsen said.

The foundation plans to discuss Hartman's request at a meeting. "We are still trying to figure out what we are going to do," Nielsen said.

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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