Panel tours site planned for hunting

December 30, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

BOONSBORO - Washington County Planning Commission members on Monday toured the site of a fowl-hunting operation off Mapleville Road, which some fear is dangerously close to a residential development.

The tour was closed to the media at the request of property owner Joseph Michael of Boonsboro, who also is an assistant Washington County state's attorney.

The Planning Commission is expected to discuss Michael's recently submitted site plan at a Jan. 5 meeting, Associate Planner Jill Baker said.


Planning Commission member George Anikis said the visit helped him better understand the operation, which is next to an upscale housing development being built called Meadows Green.

Anikis, who has expressed safety concerns, declined to say how he feels about the hunting range after seeing it in person.

He said it would not be appropriate to discuss the issue publicly until the Jan. 5 meeting.

Washington County Commissioner James Kercheval, who took the tour as a voting member of the planning commission, said afterward he had not yet made up his mind.

"It was certainly helpful to see the layout," Kercheval said. "It gives you a little more comfort level."

Planning commission members gathered at the property Monday, driving about a half-mile back a gravel lane.

Construction equipment and the shells of several large houses could be seen from the lane. A Sheetz at the corner of Mapleville Road and U.S. 40 also was visible.

The property also features rolling hills and woods.

Michael asked members of the press to leave the property. Planning Commission Chairwoman Paula Lampton said she would enforce his request.

Anikis said Michael plans to attend the planning commission meeting and answer the same questions he was asked during Monday's tour.

Michael has had a permit to operate Whistling Hill as a regulated shooting area since 1999, said Mary Goldie, permits coordinator at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Renewed on Oct. 28, the permit is good through June 30, 2004, she said.

It allows the release and shooting of pheasant, quail, partridge and waterfowl, she said.

Michael has described the 137 acres as an invitation-only game farm that has attracted U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, other members of Congress, television hunting personalities and other prominent guests from around the world.

Michael argues he does not need the county's approval because his DNR permit 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, he has said.

Michael has said he submitted the site plan as a precautionary measure to go on record as having the shooting area before the nearby residential development is built.

Developers of Meadows Green were surprised to learn about the hunting operation after the 65-home subdivision was approved, said Jim Proakis, a senior vice president of D.R. Horton Inc. of Rockville, Md.

Sixteen homes in the $500,000-to-$600,000 range are under construction and a dozen of those have been sold.

"We want the county and the planning commission to abide by their zoning ordinances. We think if they do that there won't be any issues at all," he said.

Michael cannot get a zoning permit until the site plan is approved by the planning commission, according to the county Permits and Inspections office.

If the planning commission found a problem with the hunting range, the DNR probably would take a second look at the shooting range.

"I really can't see that there's a safety issue, but I'd certainly have to take a look at it in the face of new information," she said.

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