Coming soon: a ruling on drive-in theater

Judge to rule on plan killed by zoning panel

October 02, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A Carroll Circuit Court judge said yesterday that he will rule within 30 days on a request to overturn the county Board of Zoning Appeals' decision against a Sykesville man who wants to build a state-of-the-art drive-in theater complex in Eldersburg.

Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. said he would review the transcript of the zoning board's three-day hearing and issue a written ruling. Alan J. Ackerman, the would-be developer, challenged the board's Jan. 23 decision, which denied his application to build Bumper's Drive-In on about 37 acres along Liberty Road.

"This is the first digital drive-in in the world. Even Saudi Arabia doesn't have one," Ackerman said after the hearing. He called the technology "the way of the future," already in about 65 indoor theaters nationwide.

The drive-in also would feature a concert stage and space for car shows.

Opposing the project is a group of residents from Edgewood, Sumner's Hollow and Linton Springs neighborhoods. Those neighbors are concerned about the potential for noise, light and more than 1,000 vehicles leaving en masse as late as 1 a.m.

The zoning board sided with them in a written opinion, saying a drive-in would decrease the value of their homes.

Several neighbors of the property were present yesterday for the court challenge to that decision. Their attorney, Michelle M. Ostrander, told the judge that the zoning board fully debated the issues and that its decision should stand.

Thomas F. Stansfield, representing Ackerman, said the zoning board decision was "a serious miscarriage ... caused by a tremendous outpouring of people in the neighborhood. The board was overwhelmed with a capacity crowd." The law should govern, not a plebiscite, he said.

Ostrander argued that board members are accustomed to having an audience and objected to the notion that they were "somehow swayed by an angry pitchfork-carrying mob to rule in clear contradiction of the law ... the idea that somehow having 50 people in the room scared them."

The application "needs to sink or swim" on its own, she said. "Did the board have enough information? Yes."

"Well, they weren't carrying pitchforks," Stansfield said, but suggested that a tape rather than a transcript would better convey the atmosphere in the hearing room.

At issue yesterday was whether the board's decision, taken as a whole, is supported by substantial evidence, he said.

"The board failed to reconcile its deliberations with its decision," he told the judge, reading comments from the transcript. "The board must make specific findings in order to turn down this use."

Ostrander attributed the comments to "thinking out loud" - proof, she said, that the issue was fully debated.

The 37 acres are zoned for industrial use, which would allow a drive-in as a conditional use, Stansfield said.

He called the site "a perfect set-up for a theater." About 15 acres of the property near the neighbors' homes would remain undeveloped as a buffer, and a natural bowl on the site would place the screens below the tree line, he said. The sound would be delivered by a low-frequency radio system inside the car and would not be an issue other than on the stage, he said.

Growth in the area is inevitable, Stansfield said, adding that while the neighbors might enjoy seeing 37 acres of farmland, "to believe it will stay that way is a pipe dream."

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