The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday evening to deny the special use permit application of the Mid-Atlantic Pyrotechnic Arts Guild (MAPAG).
The controversial application to test and display fireworks on a 127-acre parcel in south-central Orange County, drew nearly 230 comments from as close as next-door property owners and as far away as Idaho during the two-week public hearing process that ended Monday.
The hobbyist fireworks club, founded in 2012, applied to the county to conduct a number of weekend events from May through October on an agriculturally-zoned parcel owned by club members Eddie and Carol Hostetter of Texas. The Orange County Planning Commission recommended denial.
In July 2016, the Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a zoning ordinance amendment to add pyrotechnic testing and manufacturing as a special use in the agricultural zoning district. MAPAG submitted its SUP to the county in May.
Among 229 comments submitted during the two-week public hearing window, 187 urged the supervisors to support the MAPAG SUP application and 42 asked them to deny it. All 42 were submitted by county or local residents.
While that point may have resonated with the board members, the county's comprehensive plan seemed to be the downfall of the application.
District 2 Supervisor Jim White--who represents the district where the parcel is located--said the matter before the board was a land use issue and as such, the board must be guided by the plan it it adopted in 2013.
"It provides explicit guidance on this SUP," he said. "The plan's main purpose is to communicate to landowners, stakeholders, residents and elected officials, what land use will look like. The A1 land use category's purpose is to protect the rural, agricultural, cultural and historic areas of the county."
The method to achieve that is very specific, he said. "It allows three purposes in A1--agriculture, forestry or homesteads. That's it. In my analysis, there's no set of conditions or torturing the language that can make this request look like agriculture, forestry or a homestead."
District 5 Supervisor Lee Frame said the A1 zoning district was the most appropriate for the proposed use.
But District 1 Supervisor Mark Johnson said he had a difficult time seeing how this application yielded any benefits to Orange County. Additionally, he said he feared approving could set a dangerous precedent for other parcels throughout the county.
He also noted the opposition of county citizens carried more weight than the support of out-of-state fireworks advocates.
"We’re deciding whether people can build explosives and set them off in an agricultural area of the county," Johnson said. "I can’t see where that's good for Orange County. If we approve this, we'd be on shaky footing denying the next thing that comes along."
White made a motion to deny the application, which Johnson seconded. Board chair and District 4 Supervisor Jim Crozier said he would prefer not to be a part of the vote, but would participate, acknowledging the application appeared at odds with the county's comp plan for land use.
In a roll call vote, White voted in favor of his motion to deny the SUP, but Frame and District 3 Supervisor Teel Goodwin voted against that motion. Crozier, clearly conflicted, said he "reluctantly" voted in favor of White's motion to deny. Johnson cast the tie-breaking vote that officially denied the special use permit application.
Because the Dec. 17 issue went to press Tuesday afternoon, this story will be updated for the Dec. 24 issue of the Orange County Review.