Saturday, September 17, 2016

Zoning exception granted for private airstrip in Pylesville

A Pylesville couple has received a special zoning exception from Harford County for a private aircraft landing strip at their farm in the 4700 block of Fawn Grove Road.

Applicants Todd and Barbara Linkous can continue using a 1,300-foot grass runway on their "fairly large working farm," so Todd Linkous can continue flying his "hand-built, two-seat 100 horsepower aircraft," according to the Sept. 6 decision written by Zoning Hearing Examiner Robert Kahoe Jr.

Although private landing strips have long been permitted in Harford's rural areas, they have become a rarity, even though the county was an early adopter of flight.

In the first half of the 20th century, there were several airstrips on farms, including near Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and Bel Air, according to numerous newspaper and other historical accounts. The existing general airports in Forest Hill, Aldino and Fallston were established by men who flew their own planes.

The Pylesville case was the result of a complaint, according to Kahoe's opinion. Under county zoning law, landing strips and aircraft storage are permitted in the agricultural zone, but only through a special exception granted through the zoning appeals process. According to the case record, the landing strip was being used without prior county approval.

Todd Linkous flies the airplane only during good weather and only during the daytime, about two or three times weekly, according to the decision. He has an FAA issued pilot's license, limited to visual flight rules. Since 1999 he has flown single-engine, fixed-wing aircraft and has accumulated more than 1,000 hours of air time, the opinion states.

Linkous' attorney, John Gessner, declined to comment on the decision or to make his client available for an interview. The hearing examiner's decision can still be appealed to the Harford County Council, which also sits as the county Board of Appeals. Barring such an appeal, the decision becomes final Sept. 26.

Some of the Linkouses' neighbors testified during a July 25 hearing they have had no problem with the airplane's operation, and no one testified against it.

The couple has had no complaints about the airstrip except for the one that triggered the "instant zoning investigation," which Todd Linkous said came from "a disgruntled tenant," according to the decision.

The southwest side of the property is near Eden Mill Park, but Linkous said he generally avoids flying over the park and does not feel his airfield negatively affects the park.

The 176-acre property includes a two-story farmhouse, a shop building, several outbuildings and at least two more "residential structures," according to the hearing examiner's decision.

The county Planning and Zoning Department "could not find a comparable case or approval of a personal aircraft landing facility" after going back through all the past decisions of the zoning hearing examiner and Board of Appeals, county senior budget analyst Ben Lloyd said via email.

Before Linkous built the airplane about three years ago, he operated a hang glider from his property, according to the decision.

The runway will meet all Maryland Aviation Administration requirements, according to testimony from Anthony McClune, chief of current planning for the county.

Linkous agreed to a condition that prohibits other aircraft from using the runway except in an emergency.


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