Severn School Bleacher Variance Approved
By Darrell Mak
The Severn School successfully won county approval to proceed with a controversial plan to replace the bleachers at its athletic fields. The ruling allows the school to situate the bleachers with fewer setbacks from its property line than otherwise required.
We were very pleased the variance was approved, said Doug Lagarde, Headmaster of Severn School. The improvements will make the area look much better and be more accessible for people with disabilities.
The proposed work includes replacing the existing bleachers with metal bleachers and constructing brick walls at each end. The new bleachers would provide room for 10 additional seats. Due to spacing constraints, Severn School requested a variance to install the new bleachers on the schools rear lot line with no setback along Maple Avenue. County code requires a seven-foot setback from the rear property line.
In its request, the school cited several reasons to allow the variance. Currently, the existing bleachers are not handicap friendly, have safety concerns, and extend onto county property on Maple Avenue. In addition, the school owned the property before zoning regulations came into existence, and the new brick walls will reduce noise from sporting events.
The schools request, however, generated mixed reaction from the immediate community. While some community residents supported the request, others, including the board of the Olde Severna Park Improvement Association, dissented.
The Board has decided to oppose this variance since we believe this will contribute to even more congestion and safety problems associated with sporting events held there, noted Austin Bachmann, president of the associations board.
Ted Kinkel, the boards first vice president, testified at a hearing on the matter, arguing the changes will add to the already chaotic traffic during athletic events. Granting the variance is at odds with, and detrimental to, the public welfare and safety. Severna Park has severe traffic and public safety issues as it is, he said.
Kinkel calculated the field is used at times for upwards of five events per day, between the schools own events or for rentals, and parking resources were being overwhelmed.
My point is heavy uses of the facilities and the lack of adequate parking, sidewalks and good traffic flow create and contribute to a situation that is routinely and regularly detrimental to public safety. Maple Avenue is a very dangerous place to traverse during athletic contests, and the addition of bleachers will only make a bad situation intolerable, he argued.
Although Kinkel proposed the space necessary to provide parking and seating along Maple Avenue could be obtained by rotating the athletic fields 90 degrees, the hearing officer for the case noted such action would result in insufficient field dimensions for sporting events.
Alternatively, Kinkel requested prohibiting parking on Maple Avenue, providing adequate handicapped parking, installing sidewalks on all four sides of the field, and installing an adequate number of bathrooms. The hearing officer, however, imposed none of Kinkels requests.
Overall, the officer determined denying the variance would eliminate the bleachers and deny the school the right to develop its side of property and replace the bleachers.
Bleachers, walls and steps will help to safely manage [peoples] experience. Providing access to handicap spectators will also be a benefit to the community, the officer wrote. Denying the requested variance would do nothing to improve the traffic situation on Maple Avenue.
Bachmann disagreed with the officers conclusions. The bleachers already exist, and they don't require a variance, he noted. Furthermore, a scaled-down version of the bleachers could replace the current bleachers and would allow the school to develop this property.
Parties have until mid-April to file an appeal to the ruling, and Bachmann said he is currently discussing with the association whether one will be filed.