Snake breeder sues to keep operation

Glen Arm man appeals ruling to Circuit Court

January 07, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Peter Kahl, a snake lover since childhood, is taking his fight to sell snakes to Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Kahl says he invested $250,000 for a state-of-the-art barn at his Glen Arm home to store and care for the snakes that he raises.

But Kahl filed suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court last week to reverse a November ruling by the county Board of Appeals that orders him to close the barn and shut down the operation.

The board, responding to a complaint filed by Kahl's neighbors, ruled Nov. 30 that although snakes are animals, raising them is not "commercial agriculture." The board said Kahl must restrict his operation to neighborhoods zoned for pet stores and other commercial uses.

Neighbors said the decision made sense.

"He's in the pet marketing business, basically. It's like one of those puppy mills that raise puppies, and it's not appropriate for that neighborhood," said Mary Pat Marzullo, a neighbor.

Kahl says the Appeals Board was wrong.

"I got shafted," Kahl said.

Kahl says that the legal fight has cost him $30,000 so far. But he vowed yesterday to take his fight to the state's highest court if necessary, a battle that he says could cost another $60,000.

"It ain't over till it's over, and this is not going to be over for three years or more," said Kahl, 34.

He says that if he loses in Circuit Court, he will likely appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and, if necessary, to the Court of Appeals.

Kahl continues to raise nonpoisonous snakes in the barn, with its office, several feeding areas, temperature-controlled storage rooms, 16 sinks and foot-thick concrete walls.

Kahl, whose father, Christian M. Kahl, served as a county commissioner and county executive, has been interested in snakes since he was 8 years old and has collected them as a hobby since age 11.

Snakes went from being a hobby to a business about 11 years ago when he began breeding Burmese pythons -- a species that could produce 100 offspring that would sell for $100 each, he says.

Kahl said that no snakes have ever escaped from his $500,000-a-year operation, which involves caring for up to 500 adult pythons and boa constrictors and between 50 and 500 baby snakes.

Kahl, who lives on nearly five acres, said he secured all the necessary county permits and was allowed to construct his barn -- until neighbors began complaining.

"I relied on the county telling me to go ahead," Kahl said.

He obtained a county license to operate a "holding facility" for his snakes in 1994 and a building permit for the 100-by-50-foot barn in 1997. The permit listed the use as a "reptile barn," according to Kahl and the Board of Appeals opinion in the case.

Kahl said his neighbors haven't liked him since he invited friends to race off-road motorcycles on his property after he moved in nine years ago.

"It's all personal," he said.

Neighbors say the operation is a sore point with the community and detracts from their property values.

"We feel this is an improper use of the land," Marzullo said. "If you let this in, what does that do, does it open the door to other businesses like this?"

Pub Date: 1/07/99

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