The Mid-Atlantic Pyrotechnic Arts Guild (MAPAG) has requested to defer consideration of a special use permit application for fireworks testing, discharge and events on a 127-acre agriculturally zoned tract in District 2.
At a virtual meeting held Thursday evening, the Orange County Planning Commission unanimously voted to postpone its recommendation on the special use permit (SUP) application until its Aug. 6 meeting.
The application has 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 in the south-central part of the county.
According to the county zoning ordinance, pyrotechnics testing and manufacturing on parcels 50 acres or larger are permitted with a special use permit.
In response to the opposition, the applicants—including property owner Edward Hostetter and MAPAG President Dave Stoddard—requested an extension in order to retain an attorney and revise the club’s application.
Orange County Planning Services Manager Sandra Thornton received requests June 12 from both Hostetter and Stoddard. The public hearing comment period closed Monday, June 15.
“I divided the public comments into three categories: those favorable; those opposed with legitimate, practical, logical concerns; and those comments that are unproductive as they are founded on fundamental errors of fact and perception,” Hostetter wrote. “Some of the public comments include wild rumors, hyperbole, misinformation and a serious misunderstanding of MAPAG’s activities. While likely well-intentioned, these public comments detract from the real work to find common ground.”
He further wrote the club would update its SUP application with significant revisions designed “to be responsive to the legitimate concerns expressed.”
“We propose to significantly reduce the number of days of permits we request and the fireworks activities on the property,” Stoddard added. “Instead of seven weekends of fireworks activities per year, we propose five.”
Testing would be limited to Friday and Saturdays on those weekends from 1 to 4 p.m. and displays would be restricted to 7 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The original application requested Thursdays through Sundays on those seven weekends.
“There will be no fireworks discharge whatsoever on school nights. This is a serious concession on the part of MAPAG in response to legitimate concerns expressed in public comments,” Stoddard continued.
Another change to the application was a 100-person cap on attendance. The initial application had no limit which was cited in many of the comments opposed to the SUP.
The nonprofit hobbyist club of approximately 80 members was formed in 2012 and routinely requested fireworks display permits from county staff for each time it met. Since then, the county has issued more than 80 permits to the group. In an effort to streamline the process, it met with the county administrator and attorney to achieve a more efficient permitting process for club events.
The group had hoped to gather one long weekend a month from April through October on Hostetter’s property off Woolfolk Lane. At those gatherings, members would learn about fireworks safety, share ideas, build, test and shoot fireworks and could “dry” camp on site.
At the commission’s virtual meeting last Thursday, District 2 Commissioner George Yancey moved to postpone consideration of the SUP until the Aug. 6 meeting.
Chair Donald Brooks (District 3) asked Thornton if the commission would need to readvertise the SUP application and reopen the public hearing comment period.
Thornton said it depends on how substantial the changes are to the revised SUP.
“If, from a technical standpoint, it makes the use more intense, yes. If it lessens the intensity, I don’t believe you’re legally required to readvertise,” she said. “However, it may be prudent to do so.”
Thornton also noted that by the time the commission meets in August, it may be able to hold an in-person meeting.