Man asks court to overturn zoning ruling on drive-in

He seeks review of board's rejection

March 21, 2002|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

A Sykesville man who hopes to build the nation's first digital drive-in movie theater on a hilly, 37-acre industrial site in Eldersburg has asked Carroll Circuit Court to overturn a county Board of Zoning Appeals decision denying him permission to move forward with the project.

Alan J. Ackerman would like to build a $5 million drive-in theater complex along Liberty Road. The proposed Bumper's Drive-In would be home to two theater screens with space for 1,100 cars, two concession stands, a playground, an arcade and a small concert stage.

The petition asks for "a review of the decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals."

Ackerman did not return telephone calls seeking comment. His attorney, Thomas F. Stansfield of Westminster, said, "It is my policy not to discuss pending litigation."

Stansfield said grounds for the appeal would be detailed in a memo to the court, which will be drafted after the Board of Zoning Appeals files a transcript of the hearing with the Circuit Court. It was not clear yesterday when the transcript would be available.

The three-member zoning appeals board unanimously rejected Ackerman's plans for the drive-in Jan. 23, after hearing more than 16 hours of testimony from real estate appraisers, drive-in theater owners, traffic consultants and South Carroll residents. The hearing on the proposal, which began in late November, took three days.

In its written decision, dated Feb. 25, the zoning appeals board listed concerns about traffic congestion, noise pollution and glare, concluding "that the close proximity of hundreds of existing residences to the proposed drive-in theater makes this property unsuitable.

"Specifically, the Board notes the noise and glare generated by a nightly gathering of almost 1,400 vehicles, departing `en masse' as late as 1:00 a.m. ... the Board finds that the proposed use in such a close proximity to the residences would decrease their property values," wrote Karl V. Reichlin, chairman of the zoning appeals board.

The site is surrounded by about 500 homes, many of them built in the past five years. Many of the nearby subdivisions include homes priced from $250,000 to $400,000.

During the proceedings, owners of neighboring properties expressed dismay over the proposed project, questioning Ackerman's business plans and the effect the drive-in would have on their property values and quality of life.

Several people said they were concerned about noise and light pollution, but residents were most vocal about safety concerns. Many said they were fearful that large groups of unsupervised teen-agers would be attracted to the drive-in.

During the proceedings, Ackerman testified that he also would rent out the facility for car shows, outdoor concerts and possibly flea markets. The zoning appeals board concluded that "these other uses were neither advertised nor applied for, and the Board notes that many of these uses are not permitted at all in the [industrial] zone."

Theaters are one of several conditional uses allowed on industrial property, which ideally would be used for light manufacturing.

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