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Man: Local OK not needed for preserve

December 11, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

BOONSBORO - A Boonsboro-area man is refuting a Washington County ruling that he needs local approvals to run his fowl hunting farm on Mapleville Road.

Joseph Michael, who owns the Whistling Hill wildlife preserve on 137 acres near U.S. 40, says he has been operating the shooting area since March 1999 under a state license.

Whistling Hill is an invitation-only game farm that has attracted U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, members of Congress, television hunting personalities and other prominent guests from around the world over the last five years, according to Fred Frederick, Michael's surveyor and spokesman.

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A wildlife preserve is defined by the state as a regulated shooting area.

In a June 25 letter to Michael, former county Director of Permits and Inspections Paul Prodonovich said Michael needed to obtain site plan approval from the Washington County Planning Commission and a county zoning permit to operate Whistling Hill.

"Even though the State issued you a permit to utilize this site in March of 1999, their permit/license does not exempt you from obtaining a zoning permit nor does it exempt you from submission of a site plan," Prodonovich wrote.

Prodonovich wrote that the permit would be issued when the planning commission approves the site plan.

Michael, however, said his state license to operate was granted two months before the county approved a change to its zoning ordinance that requires a site plan for new development in agricultural zones.

The county adopted that requirement in May 1999, Michael and County Attorney Richard Douglas said.

"I had my (preserve) started March 18, 1999," Michael said. "It's not new. It doesn't need a site plan because it predates the requirement for a site plan."

Michael also said his preserve was not a development.

Douglas disagreed in a recent phone interview, saying the county would stick by the decision made by Prodonovich.

"Paul's position is the county's position," Douglas said. "His position is really the one that counts."

Planning commission members were unsure last week whether Whistling Hill had been in operation over the past several years. Interim Planning Director Steve Goodrich did not return three phone calls.

Michael recently submitted a site plan to the planning commission, but said he did so as a precautionary measure.

Frederick said Michael wanted to go on record in the county as having the shooting area because of a new residential development being built near the shooting area.

"There's a brand new subdivision next door to him," Frederick said. "He wanted to put on record that 'I was here first.'"

The homes in the development, called Meadows Green, are priced at $500,000 to $600,000 and will sit on 11/2 to 2-acre lots, James Proakis, a senior vice president of D.R. Horton Inc., the project's Rockville, Md.-based developer, told the Associated Press.

The land borders Whistling Hill.

"We would be concerned if the county decides to approve something that is not consistent with its zoning regulations because we do have a residential subdivision being built," Proakis said.

The planning commission last week tabled a vote on the site plan. Commission members had concerns about the safety of residents who would live in Meadows Green and said they wanted more information on Whistling Hill.

"It's absolutely safe," Michael said.

Michael said hunters would not be shooting at the homes and that the hunting area is safer "than it is to drive at the intersection of Route 40 and Route 66 (Mapleville Road)."

He said he has made sure developers were aware they would be building next to Whistling Hill.

If a person wants to move in next door, "That's their decision. They're moving next to the existing shooting grounds," Michael said.

"If people are going to move to the country ... they've got to expect that their neighbors are going to hunt," Michael said.

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