Fireworks dispute emits sparks again
The controversy over a Woodford couple who host fireworks displays on their property a few times a year is emitting sparks again.
Patrick Neustatter, who lives on Pepmeier Hill Road, has been cited by Caroline County officials for storing fireworks on his property in violation of the county’s zoning ordinance.
In addition, a neighboring couple has appealed a decision by a county official who ruled the fireworks displays are not temporary or seasonal events regulated under the zoning ordinance.
Meanwhile, county officials have tentatively approved an application for a permit that would allow Neustatter and his wife, Paula, to have a fireworks display on their property on Saturday.
The Neustatters use a professional fireworks company to have displays on their property a few times a year. However, the events have drawn complaints from two neighboring couples, David and Tammi Best and Thomas and Catherine Loughlin. The Bests and Loughlins contend the fireworks displays disturb their horses. The Loughlins eventually decided to board their horse elsewhere. The Bests say their horse became frightened by a fireworks display and was injured as a result.
The neighboring couples took the dispute to the Board of Supervisors last year, and the supervisors adopted new regulations governing fireworks displays earlier this year.
Mike Finchum, director of the county’s department of planning and community development, wrote to Neustatter March 6, informing him that storing fireworks on his property is not allowed under the county’s zoning ordinance. The Neustatters have allowed the Fredericksburg-area business they contract with to put on the fireworks displays to store fireworks in containers on their property.
“The county would appreciate your cooperation in bringing the property into compliance with the zoning ordinance by removing any fireworks currently stored on the property and not permitting fireworks storage in the future,” wrote Finchum.
Fire-EMS Chief Jason Loftus subsequently approved an application for a fireworks display permit at the Neustatters’ property.
In an e-mail to county attorney Ann Cosby, David Best questioned the decision of Loftus. “How can Caroline County issue a permit for fireworks on (the Neustatters’) property to someone who has been issued a code violation for improper storage of fireworks?” asked Best. Cosby referred his questions to other county officials.
Loftus noted that the Neustatters have not received a permit for their planned fireworks display on June 16; he has only approved the application. A permit would not be issued until an on-site safety inspection on the day of the event, he said.
Nevertheless, Loftus defended his decision to approve the application while the Neustatters were cited for violating the zoning ordinance. “The storage of the fireworks and the display permit are separate issues,” he said.
Best also contends a fireworks display permit issued to the Neustatters would be improper because the minimum distance required between the fireworks discharge area and the containers used for storing fireworks to not meet standards of the State Fire Protection Code and the National Fire Protection Association.
Those standards do not apply, according to Loftus, because the county only adopted the portion of the SFPC that deals with fireworks displays. Best disagreed.
The Bests wrote a letter of complaint in May to the State Fire Marshal, which issued a permit to the Neustatters allowing them to store fireworks on their property, but they received no relief from that quarter.
The Bests also notified officials at Fort A.P. Hill about the fireworks displays – the installation’s property is located directly across the road from the Neustatters. A spokeswoman for the fort indicated that installation officials were looking into the matter, according to the Bests.
The Loughlins are appealing a ruling by Finchum that the fireworks displays are not temporary or seasonal events that would be regulated by the zoning ordinance. Their appeal will be heard by the Board of Zoning Appeals at its meeting 7:30 p.m. June 21 at the Community Services Center.