Under normal circumstances, the Orange County Board of Supervisors likely would schedule a public hearing on the Mid-Atlantic Pyrotechnic Arts Guild (MAPAG) special use permit application later this month.
These, of course, are not normal circumstances.
At its meeting last week, the board considered its calendar for the coming month and a request from the non-profit fireworks club to delay consideration of its controversial SUP until March 2021.
In an email to county officials dated Monday, Sept. 21, MAPAG attorney David Satterwhite requested the supervisors defer the upcoming public hearing on the organization’s SUP for six months.“Due to the great public interest that has been expressed regarding this application, it may be best for everyone to have the public hearing continued to the March, 2021 date in the hope that we can have a face-to-face public hearing rather than a remote one,” Satterwhite wrote.
The Orange County Planning Commission first considered the application in May when the applicants—a hobbyist club formed in 2012—requested to test and discharge fireworks during a series of long weekends on a 127-acre property on Woolfolk Lane in the south-central part of the county. Pyrotechnics testing and manufacturing on parcels 50 acres or larger are permitted with a special use permit.
MAPAG is a nonprofit club with approximately 80 members who are interested in the artistry, chemistry and engineering of fireworks. It generally meets one weekend a month from April through October and those gatherings include teaching safety, sharing ideas, building, testing and shooting fireworks. Events typically begin on Thursday and conclude Sunday.
Local outcry over the application prompted the commission to postpone the initial hearing which was later deferred at the request of the applicants, Texas residents Carolyn and Eddie Hostetter, who own the subject property in District 2.
The application generated a significant amount of response with approximately 150 submitted comments—most in opposition. Those in favor included several adjoining or adjacent land owners and many of the club’s members.
The comments cited excessive noise and the adverse impact fireworks testing and display, as well as unlimited club members and visitors would have on a quiet, rural property west of Route 522.
In late July, MAPAG revised its initial application in response to public opposition, proposing to reduce the number of days of permits and limit the windows for testing and displaying fireworks.
In its amended application, the group proposed to limit its activities to no more than five weekends (Thursday through Sunday) scheduled for fireworks activities with no more than one per month. (There will be no fireworks activities in August, per the application.) The initial application called for up to seven weekends of activities.
Testing of fireworks—originally up to 280 hours’ worth in the seven-month window—is reduced to 30 hours in the amended application and would be limited to Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m.
Fireworks displays—also originally scheduled for up to 280 hours—have been reduced to 40 hours in the revised application. Fireworks displays in the amended application would be limited to Fridays and Saturdays from 7 to 11 p.m.
Even so, the planning commission voted 3-1 last month to recommend denial of the SUP to the board of supervisors.
At its meeting last Tuesday, the board decided to defer scheduling the public hearing.
“I don’t think we should schedule it for next March,” District 1 Supervisor Mark Johnson said. “If they need a 30-day break for some reason, okay, but I don’t think it’s proper to call a six-month time-out in the middle of the process.”
County attorney Tom Lacheney advised the board it could defer the matter until next month to “give the applicants a chance to respond to Mr. Johnson’s concerns.”
“I understand their concern for being face-to-face, but …” District 3 Supervisor Teel Goodwin added.
With no objections from the rest of the board, chair Jim Crozier said the board would defer the matter until next month and, “give the applicant the opportunity to give their reasons to reschedule.”
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