Panel cancels zoning session for drive-in

Third installment on Eldersburg theater rescheduled Jan. 23

People `want to comment'

Lack of notification about cancellation irritates residents

January 09, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The county Board of Zoning Appeals abruptly canceled yesterday's third session of a hearing on a $5 million drive-in theater complex on Liberty Road in Eldersburg, angering many residents who took time off from their jobs to attend and were not notified.

"They can get information out about snow on the community television channel, but they can't tell us about this," said Erin Fagnant, a homeowner in the Edgewood subdivision in Eldersburg.

Board member Ronald Hoff told officials late Monday that an emergency would keep him from yesterday's proceedings - which zoning officials said was too late to notify more than the immediate participants. Attorneys for both sides were told that Hoff would not be able to attend, but about 25 residents who showed up at the hearing and the media were not informed. The hearing has been rescheduled for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 23.

Officials said zoning board alternate Harvey Tegeler could not fill in for Hoff because he had not heard the previous two days of testimony, which were held late last year. The hearing could have continued with the remaining board members - Howard Kramer and Karl Reichlin - but if they had cast a tie vote, the drive-in's developer would have lost the appeal.

"The developer's attorney did not want two of us to make the decision," Kramer said yesterday. "We had finished with the applicant's presentation and were set to take the opponents' comments today. We had hoped to decide today."

Developer Alan Ackerman testified at a previous hearing that his two-screen complex, to be called Bumpers Drive-In Theater, would "bring an American family icon back to life."

Ackerman must win approval for a conditional-use permit from the zoning board before he can proceed with construction on a hilly 37-acre parcel zoned for industrial use along Liberty Road. The complex, which could accommodate 1,100 cars, is surrounded by about 500 homes, many of them built within the past five years.

Michelle Ostrander, an attorney for several homeowners' associations that oppose the project, said she expected the remaining proceedings to take about a day. She planned to call a real estate appraiser and several owners of adjoining property to testify. The board would then hear what is expected to be lengthy public comment.

"There are a lot of unrepresented people who want to comment," Ostrander said.

After those comments, the board would listen to rebuttal testimony and hear closing arguments. Members would then deliberate and vote, which they must do in public.

Previous sessions drew up to 100 residents, who were restricted to questioning the developer and his witnesses.

News of the cancellation of yesterday's session did not reach many who had hoped to take advantage of their first opportunity to comment on the plans.

"I was planning to spend the whole day here, mainly to point out the safety issues," said Linton Springs resident Vassiliki Anderjaska, a neurophysiologist based in Bethesda. "I took the day off and now it is almost too late to go to work."

Residents are concerned with traffic, crime, noise and unsupervised teen-agers who might be drawn to Bumper's. The theater, which could become the nation's first digital drive-in, would include a playground, an arcade, two concession stands and a small concert stage.

"Many of us have put every bit of savings into already overpriced homes, and now we have to worry about crime, safety and pollution," said Christine Caillouet of Edgewood.

Most vowed to return to the County Office Building in Westminster on Jan. 23.

"If we don't take advantage of the hearing now, it is our own bad," Fagnant said.

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