Noting concerns about noise and traffic, the Carroll Board of Zoning Appeals denied a developer's request yesterday to build the nation's first digital drive-in movie theaters on a hilly, 37-acre industrial site in Eldersburg.
The three-member board unanimously rejected Alan Ackerman's petition to build a $5 million, drive-in theater complex along Liberty Road after concluding the third day of a hearing that began in late November.
"I think their concept will work somewhere ... but I don't want to see Eldersburg or Carroll County be the guinea pig for something new," said board member Ronald Hoff, who expressed fear that the project would cause noise and traffic problems in an area that suffers from congested roads.
Bumper's Drive-In would have been home to two theater screens with space for 1,100 cars, two concession stands, a playground, an arcade and a small concert stage.
The complex would have employed about 45 people, and a security force of about six officers, and would have generated about $300,000 a year in entertainment tax, according to Ackerman.
Ackerman had planned what he called a digital drive-in - he would have been able to take a digital signal from the Internet, a satellite or hard drive and put it on the screen.
A few companies are working to devise a way to deliver movies to theaters across the country with the push of a button or the click of a mouse.
The proposed site is one of few remaining industrial parcels in South Carroll. To proceed with his plans, Ackerman had to win a conditional use permit from the appeals board.
Theaters are one of several conditional uses allowed on industrial property, which ideally would be used for light manufacturing.
About 60 Eldersburg residents cheered and applauded after the board cast its vote yesterday afternoon.
"I think it's fantastic," Andrea Sinnott, a vocal critic of the proposed drive-in, said of the board's decision. "It could not be better."
Ackerman refused to comment on the decision and abruptly left. The developer's supporters - including two Eldersburg residents - said the drive-in would have provided much-needed family-oriented recreation in the county's most-populous area.
The board had heard more than 16 hours of testimony before reaching its decision. During the proceedings, owners of neighboring properties expressed dismay over the project, questioning Ackerman's business plans and the effect the drive-in would have on their property values and quality of life.
The site is surrounded by about 500 homes, many of them built in the past five years. Many of the subdivisions include five-bedroom homes priced from $250,000 to $400,000.
Several people said they were concerned about noise and light pollution, but residents were most vocal about safety concerns. Many were particularly fearful that large groups of unsupervised teen-agers would be attracted to the drive-in.
In December, County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge appeared briefly at the second hearing on the proposal and delivered a letter expressing her opposition to the project.
The board's written decision is expected within 30 days. After that, Ackerman will have 30 days to appeal to Carroll County Circuit Court.