Court of Appeals rules against snake breeder

Glen Arm man's business not proper in agricultural zone, the opinion says

October 13, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

The state's highest court ruled yesterday that a Glen Arm man's snake-breeding business violates Baltimore County zoning regulations, ending a four-year legal battle between the breeder and his neighbors.

In a 44-page opinion, the Maryland Court of Appeals sided with the county Board of Appeals, which found in 1998 that Peter Kahl Reptiles Inc. "does not satisfy the definition of `commercial agriculture,' because [Kahl] was not involved in the use of the land or in animal husbandry."

The business is in an agricultural zone called RC4. A permit granted to Kahl's business by the county in 1997 did not comply with zoning regulations, the court wrote.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Saturday's Maryland section about a state Court of Appeals decision on a snake-breeding business in Baltimore County gave the wrong middle initial for former County Executive Christian H. Kahl. The Sun regrets the error.

Kahl, the son of former County Executive Christian M. Kahl, built a 50-by-100-foot cedar-sided breeding barn in 1997. It was designed to house 500 adult pythons and boa constrictors, and up to 500 baby snakes. It cost $160,000.

The barn is on 5 acres in the 12200 block of Manor Road in northeast Baltimore County.

Kahl said yesterday that he had not seen the court's opinion.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said.

J. Carroll Holzer, a lawyer representing the neighbors, said that "the Court of Appeals is right on the money right down the line with the Board of Appeals, which prohibited that use."

Holzer said he thinks Kahl doesn't have to raze his building but must remove the snakes.

In making its ruling, the high court overturned county Circuit Court and Court of Special Appeals decisions allowing the snake-breeding business.

The lower courts ruled that Kahl's business was a legitimate farm use allowed in the rural area.

In 1999, Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II said snake breeding is no different from dairy farming or raising sheep.

"Where does it say he can't raise snakes?" the judge asked before ruling in Kahl's favor.

In its decision yesterday, the Court of Appeals wrote that "it was not the intent of the County Council when enacting the definition of `commercial agriculture' to include activities like the breeding, raising and selling of reptiles."

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