If a school rents a charter bus, does that make it a school bus?
That's the question the county faces today when the owner of a bus storage facility asks for permission to keep five charter buses as school buses on his three-acre site on Broad Neck Road in Arnold.
John J. Lonergan Jr., owner of Chesapeake Charter Inc., also wants the Board of Appeals to grant him a variance to expand his building to store 40 buses -- eight more than his current total.
The board hearing is set for 6: 30 p.m. today in County Council chambers on the first floor of the Arundel Center, 44 Calvert St., in Annapolis.
In July, Lonergan told Robert C. Wilcox, the county administrative hearing officer, that an increasing school population made it necessary for him to acquire more yellow school buses and store five bathroom-equipped, air-conditioned charter buses that county schools have rented for trips.
However, Lonergan acknowledged during the hearing that the charter buses also were rented by private groups such as churches and senior centers.
At least one neighbor argues that the charter buses are a commercial venture that conflicts with the residential zoning of the surrounding community.
"The situation is out of hand," said Michael Superczynski, who has lived near the site since it opened in 1982. "He wants to expand his facility into a commercial operation in a residential area, and we're against that."
Wilcox ruled against Lonergan, citing an Aug. 20, 1982, decision -- which granted him permission to store 22 school buses in a residential district -- that identified school buses as any vehicle that "makes two trips a day; to pick up children for school and later return them to their homes."
Wilcox wrote: "Private charters can, and often do, leave and return early in the morning and late at night."
This is not the first time that Lonergan has approached county officials for waivers for his operation.
Eight years ago, he received a variance to build a one-story, 1,248-square-foot office and work area to the rear of his facility after officials concluded that the variance would not be detrimental to the community and that there was a need for school bus storage.
That same year, Lonergan received county permission to revise his proposal to double the size of the addition to two stories and 2,500 square feet. He also increased the number of school buses could store from 22 to 32.
Superczynski said he is worried that Lonergan might convert all of his school buses into charter buses, which would be more profitable.
"He's not going to keep the school buses," Superczynski said. "Those 32 school buses are going to become charter buses, and his public service is going to disappear."
He also is concerned about increased pollution.
"Those commercial buses are at least twice as heavy as the school buses and they emit just as much as pollution," Superczynski said. "That activity is not conducive to this neighborhood."
Lonergan and his lawyer, Samuel J. Brown, declined to be interviewed for this article.
But other neighbors have defended Lonergan, contending that his facility is less of a nuisance than the county Department of Public Works garage across the street.
"During the winters, the motors are running all night long," complained Samuel Hardesty, 76, who has lived about 200 feet away from both sites since 1957. "You don't hear [anything] from Lonergan's. I support him."
"When I leave in the morning to go to work, the buses are gone, and when I come back in the evening, everything's all locked up," said Matthew Strohm Evans Jr., a lawyer who has lived next door to Lonergan for 12 years. "I've never had a problem with him."
Pub Date: 12/03/96