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Engedi -Too many regulations

Shannon Bohrer

(6/2014) We constantly hear the talking heads and politicians talking about too many regulations. The government is too big and the regulations get in the way of business and, because of this, employment is down and the economy suffers. This sounds reasonable, especially if you are impacted by the regulations in a negative way. However, if there are regulations and because they are not enforced you are impacted in a negative way, your perspective is different. The acceptance or belief in regulations is from one’s perspective; specifically do they affect you and if so; is the affect positive or negative.

My wife and I live on a small farm, east of Emmitsburg. The area is zoned agricultural and is primarily farm land with residential homes in the mix. Several years ago a small farm, located about a mile from us, was purchased by a couple from Mt Airy, Maryland. The farm was then developed for the purpose of holding events, which seemed to be primarily weddings. The name of the farm is Engedi Estates and it is located on Sixes Bridge Road. According to Engedi Estates web site, they conduct weddings with a seating capacity for up to 300 people. This farm (commercial business) seemed to grow very fast and on summer evenings we could hear the DJ and music at our farm. I commented to my wife that if we could hear the DJ and music, the people living close to this place must be going crazy. We also noticed an increase in vehicle traffic, specifically related to events being held on the "Farm".

In discussions with neighbors that live closer we were informed that when "Engedi" was having an event, the neighbors had no choice but to live inside their homes because of the noise. And while we were annoyed with the traffic, the traffic on Sixes Bridge Road was much worse. In early March we noticed a sign in front Engedi Estates. The sign was a notice for a hearing on March 27, 2014, at Winchester Hall in Frederick. The owners of "Engedi" were applying for a Special Exception to build a Country Inn on their property.

My wife and I both planned to attend the hearing and we soon learned that many neighbors also planned to attend. Prior to the hearing I did some research and found the county regulations for a Special Exception Request for a Country Inn. To begin with an exemption for country inn requires a home on the property that was built prior to 1977, which does seem a little odd. A summary for Special Exception 1-19-3.210, regulations also includes: Part A, who can make application, and Part B, the exception is basically a matter of development policy, i.e.; does it fit with future development patterns. It is obvious that Engedi does not fit with future development but an application was made. Additionally there are five elements and/or conditions that are needed to meet an exception;

  1. The proposed use is consistent with the purpose and intent of the Comprehensive Development Plan. (It is not consistent.)
  2. The nature and intensity of the operations will be in harmony with the appropriate and orderly development of the neighborhood. (It is not in harmony.)
  3. Operations shall not have as adverse effect on neighboring properties above and beyond those inherently associated with the special exception at any other location within the zoning district. (It does have an adverse effect.)
  4. Parking will comply with the off street parking regulations (A new parking lot was added, without obtaining a permit.)
  5. The road system providing access to the proposed use is adequate. (It is not adequate.)

On March 27, we attended the Frederick County Board of Appeals hearing at Winchester Hall. The owners of the property gave a presentation as to why the exception should be allowed and they had several witnesses that testified for the exemption. The opposing side then gave their presentations, which include testimony of 16 people. The opposition included immediate neighbors and others that lived close by. The testimony was strong and it was valid and it addressed the negative issues with the application, plus other concerns about the petitioners past behaviors. The petitioners applied for and received a permit to build a shed for agricultural equipment on the property. They built the shed and shortly thereafter they were advertising that they had a wedding pavilion. The petitioners added a bathroom facility to a garage on the property and only after doing so, applied for a permit. The petitioners applied for a perk test, which failed and were only given permission for sand mound. You would think that with one bathroom that 300 people might be pushing the limits! The petitioners later stated that they had an approval for a septic system, but nothing official was presented. There was testimony that the petitioners thinned/cleared an embankment on the Monocacy and then threw the materials in the river, and there was also the issue of moving earth to build the parking lot, without a permit. The petitioners had also already stated on their web site, before the hearing date, that they would soon have a country inn.

After the conclusion of the testimony the applicants were given time to address the opposition statements. The applicant attempted to address some of the issues presented but the facts are, as they say, the facts. At one point the owner said he was told by a county employee that he was allowed to hold 12 events a year on the "Farm". When questioned about this, it was stated that an individual is entitled to hold a special land use event, with a permit. And in fact a special land use permit can be applied for 12 times in one year. However, just because one is issued does not mean additional permits would be issued. It was obvious that "Engedi" was holding events where a permit was required, for which no permits were issued. Do the owners even have a business license?

When the testimony concluded, I thought there was no way an approval could be expected and while the petition was denied, it was denied only on one issue. The one issue being the home, built before 1977 was too small to accommodate the "Country Inn." And yet from the testimony given the request fails 4 of the 5 criteria needed for the special exemption.

From my perspective many neighbors came together for good reason and stood up for the enforcement of regulations – and for good reasons. Not all of the neighbors even knew each other before the hearing. The neighbors are not opposed to weddings, they are not opposed to small business – but they are opposed to someone that opens a commercial business in a residential and agriculture area – and the business adversely affects the neighbors. I would say that the neighbors in opposition to the permit felt very good when leaving the hearing.

Several weeks later "Engedi" was holding another event. This time they apparently obtained a special land use permit. The positive feeling I had leaving the hearing was now changed.

"I am the law and the law is not mocked" - Inspector Javert

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer