From John P. Mallamo:
This is the peculiar story of the Harford County Zoning Case 5814, a request by the Harford County Airport Owner’s Association for a Special Exception to operate a General Aviation Airport in the AG district, and a variance to disturb a non-tidal wetlands and the 75 foot Natural Resource District buffer in the Agricultural and General Industrial Districts.
The President of the Harford County Airport Owners Association was quoted as having said he asked the county’s planning and zoning department to “tweak some of the language to let us complete our facility on the current AG ground.” In March of 2013, Harford County Council passed Bill 13-04, which permitted General Aviation Airports in the AG district, with conditions, as a Special Exception.
In October of 2013, the Harford County Airport Owners Association applied for a Special Exception to operate a General Aviation Airport pursuant to the revised section 267-88I(2) of the Harford County Code, and a variance to disturb a wetlands. The Harford County Planning and Zoning department recommended approval of the application, with certain conditions. On 26 August 2013 the Harford Airport Owners Association held a Community Input Meeting, a meeting open to the public, as required by the Harford County Code. These two acts are intent and the overt act by the owners necessary to abandon the nonconforming use.
In December of 2013 and January of 2014, the County Council/Board of Appeals held a public hearing on the application. The hearing examiner recommended approval, with certain conditions on 16 April 2014. The County Council, after a conducting a public hearing for final argument on, 2 September 2014, ratified and adopted as its own the Hearing Examiner’s Decision on 16 September 2014. This act extinguished the nonconforming use.
On 5 November 2014 the Harford County Development Advisory Committee met to review the site plan presented by Harford County Airport Owner’s Association.
On 20 March 2015, Judge Emory A. Plitt, Circuit Court of Harford County, presided over a judicial review of the County Council/Board of Appeals on Zoning Case 5814. On 14 April 2015, Judge Plitt affirmed the Hearing Examiner’s decision of 16 September 2014.
All required steps in the process were observed to permit Harford County Airport to operate as a permitted use by Special Exception as a General Aviation Airport. Now comes the curious part. First, the new airport, which was previously operating as a nonconforming use, is operating, by Maryland law, as a permitted use, by Special Exception, as a General Aviation Airport. By Harford County Code, Section 267-86 it is now subject to the regulations and applicable provisions of Part 1 of the Zoning code. The currently operating new airport is operating in violation of the Harford County Code and the Hearing Examiner’s decision. Specifically, by operating a fueling/refueling service, not operating a fueling/refueling service in a fully enclosed building, using turf runways, and parking airplanes on turf, and by conducting greater than 50% of its commercial operations on land areas in the AG district. The new airport would have to change its procedures significantly to remain, even marginally, operational, if they could operate at all
The future airport, which is yet to be built, will have similar problems. Any operation of a fueling/refueling service is not permitted by Harford County code unless all adjacent properties are on public water. Fueling and refueling must be conducted in an enclosed building. Most importantly, as a result of the expert testimony, and the site plan submitted, the future airport has an approach path of approximately 500 feet on the south end of the runway, and 800 on the north end of the runway. The angle of descent, from the minimum safe operating altitude of 1,000 feet prescribed by federal law would be 63 degrees on the south end and 51 degrees on the north end. Clearly not suitable for conventional fixed wing aircraft, but maybe useable by rotary wing or vertical/short take off and landing type aircraft.
Not quite the desired or expected outcome.
At the Development Advisory Committee meeting conducted on 5 November 2014, the chairman explained how the project was obligated to go to the Board of Appeals, and that the DAC Committee must ensure that the project complies with the conditions of the Board of Appeals case determined by the Hearing Examiner and the County Council as indicated in the review comments.
Maryland law is clear, the Harford County Code is clear, the Hearing Examiner’s recommended decision to approve, with certain conditions, the Special Exception is clear, the action by the County Council/Board of Appeals to ratify and adopt the Hearing Examiner’s decision as its own is clear, the comments from the chairman of the Development Advisory Committee are clear, and Judge Plitt’s opinion and order are clear.
Why is it, then, that the County is not enforcing, the County Planning and Zoning Department recommendation to approve, with certain conditions the application for a Special Exception to operate a General Aviation Airport, the Hearing Examiner’s recommended approval, with certain conditions, of the same request, and as ratified and adopted as its own by the County County/Board of Appeals and as affirmed by Judge Plitt in the Circuit Court of Harford County?
A most curious and perplexing issue, indeed. If you are curious, too, the next time you hear a private plane flying overhead, call the County Executive or your County Councilman and ask if today is the day to enforce the code, and the Hearing Examiner’s decision on zoning case 5814.