Group to assess use of copter at horse farm Agriculture foundation to check if executive conducts business there

November 25, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation agreed yesterday to investigate whether Rite Aid Corp. Chairman Martin L. Grass conducts official business at a Green Spring Valley horse-breeding farm which also is the site for his helicopter commute to the company's headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa.

It is the latest chapter in a 1 1/2 -year-old controversy over Grass' daily helicopter takeoffs from the Green Spring Valley, which is restricted by agricultural zoning.

The foundation, an arm of the state Department of Agriculture, agreed during a meeting in Annapolis that the daily helicopter commute is legitimate only if Grass conducts official horse-breeding business at Helmore Farm, as part-owner Dale Lucas has testified that Grass does.

Grass bought an interest recently in the Helmore breeding operation, Lucas said.

Helmore's owners placed the 87-acre property in an agricultural preservation easement in return for $500,000.

The easement restricts aircraft takeoff from the property unless it is related to agricultural business, foundation Chairman Wayne C. McGinnis said.

Grass did not respond to a telephone request for comment yesterday.

Board members hope their investigation of the easement -- to be concluded early next year -- will settle the controversy, which has been through Baltimore County's zoning office and Circuit Court. Zoning officials ruled in Grass' favor.

Last month, Lucas' father, Edgar Lucas, paid $5,600 in zoning fines for illegally allowing the $3.2 million helicopter to take off from the farm before the zoning decision.

Neighbors in the valley have bitterly fought the takeoffs, charging that the roar of the chopper invades the rural character of the community and interrupts their life.

Grass moved to a $2 million estate in the valley in 1994.

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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