Proposal to store propane near two schools is rejected


A controversial plan to store 50,000 gallons of propane near two western Howard County schools was shot down last night by the local Board of Appeals, marking what could be the end of a four-year-long fight.

Parents were visibly relieved at the ruling. It was a rare example of a development proposal prompting a change in county law and then being blocked by those new regulations.

Projects are judged by the law in place when they are submitted.

But after a setback in court, developer J. Chris Pippen amended his propane proposal - months after the new regulations were approved.

"It's just a totally different case," said board member James Pfefferkorn. "The waters, in my opinion, have been muddied by all those changes."

Pippen's revised proposal called for an unmanned facility with two 25,000-gallon storage tanks on a 2.4-acre parcel between Route 32, Ten Oaks Road and Triadelphia Road in Glenelg.

Propane is used for everything from home heating to school bus fuel.

He first proposed the idea in 1998 as a facility staffed during business hours with two 25,000-gallon tanks, smaller temporary storage containers and some retail business.

Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School and the unfinished Folly Quarter Middle School sit across Route 32 from the site, giving residents frightening visions of explosions near their children.

"That size tank - if it does explode - has a zone of impact of four-tenths of a mile," said Richard F. Waddington, an attorney who lives in the area and represented opponents pro bono.

"It would have hurt a lot of people."

Pippen, who argued that the bulk storage tanks are the safest part of the propane business, said he would decide within a few weeks how to proceed.

"When the process was started, all the regulations allowed it," he said.

"The court sent us back to amend our petition. By definition, the court requested us to amend our petition. That's a Joseph Heller Catch-22 nightmare."

The board approved Pippen's first proposal four years ago. Opponents persuaded the state Court of Special Appeals to remand the plan back last year because propane in the temporary storage containers could violate the limit of about 52,500 gallons on that site.

The protracted battle persuaded County Council members to change the law last year so large propane-storage facilities cannot move onto land designated B-2, a type of business zoning. The Glenelg site is zoned B-2.

Pippen filed his amended plan in March. Board members said that would not have been a problem if his alterations were limited to gallons stored.

"This is clearly different because there are so many substantive changes," said board member Jacqueline Scott.

The panel voted 4-0 to apply the new rules to the project, which killed it.

Though he noted that "the merits of the case were actually presented quite well," Robert C. Sharps, the board chairman, said: "Based on the new regulations, we must deny that petition."

"It's not the same case," agreed Vice Chairman Pat Patterson, who said he was inclined to vote against it either way.

Residents were overjoyed.

Those fighting the plan since the beginning had raised several thousand dollars to pay for the court appeal and weren't eager for another round. Several hundred members of the elementary school's PTA sent letters to the board recently to urge that the new law be applied.

Angela Butler, a Dayton resident whose two children will attend Folly Quarter Middle School when it opens next year, jumped up and down after the vote and hoped the issue was dead.

"I was sitting there with my fingers crossed the whole time," she said.

"This is an industrial product. It should be in an industrial area."

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