Fox-hunting group clears hurdle on new clubhouse

Zoning panel approval ends fight between county, members

Western Howard

May 04, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

After being caught in a bureaucratic thicket for nearly a year, Howard County's fox hunters are finally breaking into the clear.

The county Planning Board recommended yesterday zoning approval for the Howard County-Iron Bridge Hounds, a 70-year-old fox-hunting club based on a 100-acre parcel in the western part of the county.

The vote helped put to rest the club's run-in with county officials who discovered last summer that the club had built a clubhouse without the required permits. Club officials initially argued that they didn't need formal approval for the clubhouse - which includes a full bar and kitchen - because it was incidental to the "farming operation" at the Windsor Forest Road property.

But, under pressure by the county, the club relented and submitted to the zoning approval process. The Planning Board rewarded the club with a swift hearing and a unanimous vote in the club's favor.

"This allows us to be totally legal," said developer Donald R. Reuwer, club treasurer, one of 10 members at the hearing.

The club, which has about 75 members, moved from Glenelg five years ago after the county condemned and bought its property at Triadelphia and Folly Quarter roads to make room for a new school. Members hunt as often as three times a week during the season, which runs from September to March.

The hunts typically range far beyond the club's land, which is managed by a resident "huntsman" who oversees a large dog kennel on the property. The hunters track the foxes and don't seek to kill them, members say.

After county inspectors slapped a stop-work order last summer on the large gray barn that the club converted into a clubhouse, developer J. Thomas Scrivener, a longtime member, wrote to the county Zoning Department, arguing that the clubhouse didn't need permits.

"The tenant asked for permission to make improvements to the loft area of the `stable' that could be used to occasionally entertain friends that visited the `farming operation,'" Scrivener wrote, avoiding any mention of the fox-hunting club. "The nature of the use would be similar to that of a resident in Columbia having friends over for a pool party, or a resident of Turf Valley Overlook having a crab feast at his home."

County building inspectors were skeptical, saying the club was turning the barn into a clubhouse for large gatherings, which would require permits for electrical, mechanical and plumbing work, in addition to a second entrance for fire safety.

Yesterday, the tone was friendlier. Board Chairwoman Joan Lancos praised the club's property and said she had taken a peek inside the new clubhouse. "The crystal chandeliers seem awful nice," she said.

The club must get approval from the Board of Appeals and then obtain the required building permits from county inspectors.

After the hearing, Reuwer said the club has held off on using the clubhouse until gaining final approval.

Whenever the clubhouse is put to use, neighbor Sallie Morris, who turned out to support the club, said she hopes to be invited. "They have good parties," she said. "They're good people, horse people."

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