In Howard, fight continues over farm's plan for store, events

Robert and Maxine Walker are hoping for county approval allowing them to hold social events at their Woodbine farm, despite neighbors' opposition at two hearings this month that further delayed a ruling by the county's Board of Appeals.

Back in 2009, the Walkers asked the county for permission to open an antiques store and rent out a portion of the property for private events for up to 150 people, but several neighbors fought back over concerns about noise, to increased traffic, possible drunk drivers and worries over a business operating in a agricultural area.

The Walkers would like to operate the rental space on their property to raise funds for renovations of their 145 acres farmstead with a white 1840 farmhouse on Jennings Chapel Road, said their attorney, E. Alexander Adams.

"It's expensive to run and maintain the property," he said.

The Board did not reach a decision last Tuesday, nor at a meeting the week before, as testimony ran over by several hours each night. But Adams, said he was hopeful for a decision before the end of this year.

"I have no idea who comes to these parties for pay," Victoria Stewart-Moore said at hearing. She lives about half a mile from the Walkers and testified that her Limousin cattle, which she sells for slaughter, and horses, would suffer under stress from noises from DJs and live music, causing them to lose weight and cause her to lose income.

She added that the use "conflicts with the General Plan for the rural west," referring to the county's plan to preserve agricultural property and open space in the less populated western part of the county. "It's why I sold my development rights," which preserve her property for agriculture, she said.

But Adams said after the meeting that Stewart-Moore's testimony and some of the other neighbors comments were speculative. He said one neighbor raised concerns about "communicable diseases," if the conditional use were approved.

"I understand people don't want something obnoxious in the neighborhood" Adams said, but he added the Walkers plans would have little impact on their neighbors.

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