Maryland Renaissance Festival staying put in Crownsville

The Maryland Renaissance Festival will stay in Crownsville and won't be moving to south county.

The festival's board and president Jules Smith decided not to appeal the county Board of Appeals' decision denying a variance to half of the four special exception requirements set out for the festival.

The board's decision also found the festival would not meet other criteria set in county law, particularly whether the move to a 238-acre parcel off of Route 4 would change the character of the neighborhood.

"We looked at the ruling and decided we could not overcome the vague determination that we did not fit the area," Smith said. "We felt we could challenge the variance issue, but on the other subjective things ,we did not feel we could prevail."

At issue was the festival's application for a variance on two of the four requirements — along with general exception hurdles.

In June, County Administrative Hearings Officer Douglas Hollmann denied the variance request.

The Maryland Renaissance Festival is legally allowed to operate in the residential-agricultural zone like that found along Route 4 in south county but must go through the special exception process to determine if its plan meets standards.

The festival hoped to get changes to the county rule that says the festival site must have direct access to an arterial road and a requirement the festival may not be located on a scenic or historic roadway.

The Board of Appeals denied the Ren Fest appeal in December. It not only addressed the subject of the variance decision but addressed the other required special exception provisions. The festival had 30 days to appeal to the Circuit Court.

The county code says a petitioner must show a project "will not alter the essential character of a neighborhood or district." The Board found the Renaissance proposal would alter the rural character because of the masses of people and traffic. It also found the variances could be "detrimental to the public welfare," again due to traffic and lack of direct access to Route 4.

"The people of south county banded together to fight this despite getting late word on it," said Steuart Chaney who was part of the effort. "It is landmark case for south county because if the Renaissance Festival had been successful it would have opened up opportunities for other traffic intensive events and facilities. I never spoke to one person who was in favor of moving the festival to south county."

Though delighted the festival will not be moving across the street from his house, opponent Rick Price said a protracted appeal would have been very costly to the Bristol Civic Association and people in the area.

"They just didn't fit the mold for down here," Price said. "It would have been a scary thing, so much change. But I am glad to see the process worked."

As to the festival's future, Smith said they are staying put.

"We have a long-term lease, and we plan to continue if that is what we have to do," Smith said.

The Maryland Renaissance Festival opens its season Aug. 29.

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