Appeals court says creamery opponents have right to fight

Opponents of a farmer's creamery business in northern Baltimore County have the right to pursue their fight against the operation before a circuit judge, the state's second highest court ruled on Wednesday.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed a Circuit Court opinion, ruling that the Long Green Valley Association and John and Susan Yoder have legal standing to press their case against the dairy and meat business run by Robert E. Prigel and his family at their 199-acre farm on Long Green Road. The Circuit Court had ruled in 2009 that the challengers did not have standing.

"We are very happy, and so are all the other associations that we finally get a judgment of standing," said Carol Trela, of Baldwin, secretary of the Long Green Valley Association, a preservation group that represents about 300 local residents. She said county community associations in many cases have had difficulty challenging projects in court for lack of the legal status to do so.

The association's lawyer, Michael R. McCann, called the opinion a "huge victory for the public in challenging" conservation agreements, such as the one under which the Prigel farm is operating. McCann said he believed it was the first Maryland appeals court decision to grant standing to neighbors on the basis that they would suffer "special harm" in a way that is different from the general public.

The court agreed with that argument for standing, but rejected two others.

Robert E. Prigel Jr. said Wednesday this is the first of several legal challenges that the family has lost in the years-long battle over the creamery, which has been making and selling ice cream and milk since September, 2010 and selling pork and beef for about the last four months. Prigel referred questions on the legal ramifications of the opinion to his lawyer, John Gontrum, who could not be reached to comment.

Opponents argue that in building the creamery, the Prigels violated the terms of the preservation agreement they signed in 1997 with the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation to keep their farm in agricultural use in exchange for $796,500. As quoted in the court opinion, the agreement with the foundation, which operates as part of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, says the land cannot be used for "any commercial" purpose.

The association and the Yoders asked the Circuit Court to force the foundation to enforce the terms of the agreement and stop the Prigels from building and running the creamery.

Robert Prigel Jr. said the creamery has had an "absolutely fantastic year for the first year," selling 400 to 500 gallons of ice cream a week during the summer, about half that now, to restaurants and markets and to customers at a retail stand on the farm. He said the creamery hopes in the coming year to bottle milk and add butter, cheese and yogurt to its products menu.

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