Judge overturns zoning board's curbs on number of flights at Carroll airport He says it lacks authority over field

October 20, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

A Carroll circuit judge has overturned a county Board of Zoning Appeals decision, making it possible for an Eldersburg airport owner to have an unrestricted number of flights at his private airfield.

Saying only the federal government has the authority to restrict airplane operations, Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. ruled Friday that the conditions placed on Edward Primoff's airfield are "therefore illegal."

The action of the appeals board in limiting the number of flights to 120 a year was "arbitrary and capricious," Beck said in his three-paragraph order reversing the board's decision.

The case began with a zoning appeals board decision Aug. 27, 1997. When the board gave Primoff permission to build a 1,785-foot airstrip on his farm, it restricted the use to 40 daylight trips a year by his two single-engine planes.

Primoff returned March 27 to ask the board for an unlimited number of flights. The earlier restrictions "are clearly my fault," Primoff told the board in March. "It was my stupidity not to examine what I do" as a pilot.

The board amended its order to allow 120 flights a year, but Primoff said the board had no right to limit his flights and sued.

Primoff, a licensed commercial pilot for more than 30 years, filed his suit July 31. He said at the time that the appeal had more to do with defending his "property rights" than with winning unrestricted use of his airport.

"It's almost impossible for me to make 120 flights a year," he said yesterday. "I've probably flown five times in the last five months."

During the case, Primoff, founder of the Carroll County Landowners and Homeowners Association property-rights group, said he informed the board of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says government may interfere with "personal property rights only when there is overwhelming public harm."

"I don't want to do anybody harm ever or to benefit by having someone else lose," he said. "But there was no shred of opposition to this whatsoever. Forty-three of 44 neighbors supported me strongly."

Primoff said he thinks the Board of Zoning Appeals imposed the restrictions "for political reasons." The suit, therefore, became "a question of personal freedom," he said. "It had little to do with how many times I fly."

Beck's ruling "vindicates" County Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates, who demoted former appeals board Chairman James Schumacher to alternate status last month, allegedly because of his s call for the airport restrictions, Primoff said.

"The Circuit Court for Carroll County has made it clear in every decision over the past few years that county agencies must follow the law and not someone's personal political agenda," he said.

The decision could also affect a long-standing airport case before the zoning appeals board.

Woodbine resident Michael R. Harrison wants to reopen an airport on his 172-acre farm that was shut down by the county last year. The airport opened in 1972.

Harrison told the appeals board in a letter last month that he would "voluntarily accept a condition to ban gliders" at his airport because "that is what my neighbors testified against" at recent board hearings. (Some of his neighbors have been fighting glider operations at his farm since two fatal tow-plane crashes there in the early 1980s.)

But Friday's ruling could mean that the board will be barred from accepting voluntary restrictions as a condition of flight operations. A judge ruled more than a decade ago that the Board of Zoning Appeals could not impose restrictions on Harrison's glider port operations because such restrictions were in an area controlled by the federal government.

The board postponed action on Harrison's case until Nov. 19.

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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