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Plans for dinosaur park in Pleasant Valley stir range of reactions in community

A proposal for a new park in near Pleasant Valley could result in some residents in the area waking up to a whole new era: the Mesozoic Era.

But the prospect of waking up to dinosaurs in the backyard has some residents who may prefer the current era, the Cenozoic, worried.

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On Aug. 30, the county Board of Zoning Appeals will hear a request for a conditional use that would allow the construction of a dinosaur-themed park on a 3.17-acre lot near the intersection of Stone and Halter roads.

The land is currently zoned for agricultural use and is farmed by an individual who leases the land to grow corn, according to application documents filed with the county Office of Administrative Hearings.

The plan, according to the application filed by Reisterstown resident and prospective buyer Christopher Spicer, is to convert the property into Dinosaur Country, a sculpture park complete with replicas of dinosaurs and educational items. The site will also feature a playground, picnic tables and open areas for play, the filings say.

A Reisterstown resident, Spicer said he loved going to places like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

"I've been a dinosaur fan ever since I was a kid," he said in an interview.

Dinosaur Country, he said, would give kids a chance to experience something like that closer to home.

"You don't really have anything like that around here," he said. "I wanted to provide something along those lines."

The park, Spicer said, is not the kind of thing that would work in a strip mall. He said he looked at properties around Baltimore, Carroll and Frederick counties before ultimately settling on the Stone Road site.

The current owner of the property is listed with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation as Mable Davis, while the executor is listed as Wendy Miller. A listing for the property on Coldwell Banker indicates the property does not currently have water or sewer.

Records with the county say Spicer would be paying $85,000 for the property. The purchase, Spicer said, is contingent on him acquiring the necessary approvals to open the park there.

In order to operate the park, Spicer said in the application that he plans to build a one-story structure of about 600 square feet to house a visitor center, educational materials, bathrooms and a souvenir shop. The site will also offer a small parking area, he said.

The dinosaurs themselves will not exceed 20 feet in height, Spicer said, and many will be obscured from site from the outside of the park by landscaping.

Dinosaur Country will operate primarily during daylight hours, save for special events like a Christmas light display, Spicer wrote in the application.

Admission fees to the sculpture portion of the park will provide revenue for the business while the playground, visitor center and other areas will be accessible for free, he said.

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Spicer is requesting that the Board of Zoning Appeals grant the conditional use and allow him to decrease the normal setback requirement.

Spicer said in the filings that he liked the space because of its proximity to Md. 97 and downtown Westminster. It's about a 12-minute drive from Main Street in Westminster and about 2.5 miles from Md. 97.

But some area residents aren't happy about the possibility of the park opening at that site.

Earlier this week, a Change.org petition originated to protest the zoning requests.

"Constructing a large park in this location would create an impact on traffic, noise and over all quality of life for the farms and homes located in this area," reads the petition, which had garnered more than 260 signatures by Sunday afternoon. "Please say NO TO REZONING THIS PARCEL, by doing so you will be protecting our farm land and our property rights!"

Nickie Lanza, who said she lives about 5 acres away from the proposed site, on Stone Road, started the petition.

"It's practically my backyard," she said.

A mother herself, Lanza said she can see the attraction for something like Dinosaur Country. It's the location that worries her, she said.

"I have two little girls. I get it," she said. "This is just not the right location."

Since the petition went up on Monday, Lanza said she has been heartened by the support. She and other neighbors moved to the area for its quiet, rural surroundings, she said, adding that she thought the park would be a better fit along a more major road, like Md. 97 or Md. 140.

But where some see an unnatural fit, others see a potential hub for the community.

Casey Bair, who lives in the Arters Mill area, a few miles from the proposed site, said she thinks the community could benefit from the opening of something like Dinosaur Country.

"It's an education thing," she said, adding that she thinks the park could draw people out into the community.

If the park opens, she said, she would look forward to taking her nephews there for a visit.

"What I was more so thinking is it will be a field trip for schools and stuff," Bair said.

For his part, Spicer said he thinks some of the opponents are overestimating the footprint of the park. He started his own Change.org petition over the weekend in support of the park.

"This is actually a very small project," he said.

The public hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Aug. 30 in Room 3 of the County Office Building.

410-857-3315

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