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Panel OKs proposal for hunting site

January 06, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Planning Commission on Monday approved a site plan for a game farm in which fowl are released and then shot in the air, saying they thought future residents of a development bordering the hunting area would be safe from gunfire.

A representative of an animal-rights group denounced the vote afterward, calling the decision a "travesty."

"That's not hunting, that's slaughter," said Norm Phelps of Funkstown, program coordinator for The Fund for Animals, based in Silver Spring, Md., and New York City. "I think it's a terrible shame they approved it."

The 137-acre Whistling Hill regulated shooting site, on Mapleville Road near Boonsboro, has operated since 1999 under a license from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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Owner Joseph Michael has said he applied for the site plan to establish a county record as having the invitation-only shooting site before the 47-unit Meadows Green residential development, currently under construction, came along.

Michael, an assistant Washington County state's attorney, said he did so as a precaution to protect Whistling Hill and that site plan approval was not required.

But former county Director of Permits and Inspection Paul Prodonovich previously ruled that Michael must obtain site plan approval and apply for a county zoning permit to run the operation.

The planning commission determined after visiting Whistling Hill on Dec. 29 that residents of Meadows Green would not be in danger from shooting, members said.

They approved the site plan by a 5-0 vote. Commission member Donald Ardinger was absent.

Washington County Commissioner and planning commission member James F. Kercheval said the visit to the shooting area alleviated a lot of concerns.

Planning Commission member George Anikis said the shoots are conducted away from the development.

"You're actually controlling the direction that the birds are going to fly in," Anikis said.

Michael said the hunts would be conducted 150 yards from occupied residences, as required by state law. Signs stating the property is a regulated shooting site will be posted and the hunting areas within the property will be clearly marked, he said.

He said the shotgun pellets used in the hunts do not travel farther than 150 yards, and he gives safety lectures before each shoot.

Michael told the planning commission that it should be up to the developer of Meadows Green to inform potential home buyers that they would be moving near a shooting site.

Jeff Proakis, senior vice president of D.R. Horton Inc., the housing site's Rockville, Md.-based developer, has said he was concerned about the shooting site.

The homes in the development are priced at $500,000 to $600,000 and will be on 11/2- to 2-acre-lots, Proakis said.

Michael told the planning commission that the residential development was impinging on his property because he's going to lose about 20 acres from the hunting area to comply with the state's 150-yard buffer requirement.

"It's a dramatic loss to us," Michael said.

Michael's Whistling Hill 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, Michael's surveyor and spokesman Fred Frederick of Frederick Seibert and Associates has said.

In addition to The Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States and at least two Washington County residents have written to the planning commission to object to Whistling Hill.

Phelps said The Fund for Animals will discuss the planning commission's vote and decide whether the organization plans to contest it.

He said he thought planning commission members went into Monday's meeting with their minds already set on approving the site plan.

"It was a love fest in there," Phelps said.

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