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St. Clair v. Colonial Pipeline Co.

Decided: July 9, 1964.

ST. CLAIR, ET AL.
v.
COLONIAL PIPELINE COMPANY, ET AL.



Appeal from the Circuit Court for Harford County (DYER, JR., J.).

The cause was argued before Brune, C. J., and Hammond, Prescott and Horney, JJ., and Rutledge, J., Associate Judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, specially assigned.

Horney

HORNEY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this zoning case, the primary question is whether the "delivery" or "tank farm" facilities of a pipeline company for the above ground storage of petroleum products constitute such "public utility structures" as are permissible in an agricultural district under the zoning ordinance of Harford County. C. Albert St. Clair and others (protestants) are the appellants and the Colonial Pipeline Company (Colonial or pipeline company) is the appellee.

Colonial, a Delaware corporation owned by nine oil companies,

is engaged in transporting refined petroleum products by pipeline, which, when completed, will extend from Houston, Texas, to Linden, New Jersey. The main line crosses twelve states, of which Maryland is one. Lateral or spur lines to service communities along the route of the pipeline system will connect with the main line at various intervals. There are two such connecting points in Maryland. One at Finksburg to service the Curtis Bay area, and the proposed one on the Berry farm near Forest Hill to service a lateral line terminating in the North Baltimore area.

The protestants are property owners who adjoin or are in close proximity to the proposed location of the tank farm or delivery facilities which are the subject of this controversy. Most of the protestants own attractive homes, costing in excess of $30,000, in what has been developing from a sparsely populated agricultural area into spacious residential homesites.

When the pipeline company made application for a zoning certificate to construct the delivery facilities in the center of the 300 acre Berry farm on which it has an option to buy, the zoning inspector disapproved the application and referred it to the board of appeals. On referral to it, the board, in the exercise of its original jurisdiction, ordered the issuance of the zoning certificate applied for subject to certain conditional uses, and the protestants appealed to the circuit court. The appeal to this Court is from the order of the lower court affirming the decision of the board of appeals.

The pipeline company proposes to erect five floating roof petroleum storage tanks, with a combined capacity of 382,000 barrels, as well as a thirty by sixty foot pumping station and smaller buildings. The proposed tanks average fifty feet in height with diameters ranging from eighty to one hundred and fifty feet, and, since the tanks will be lighted as a safety measure, they will be visible from adjoining properties both day and night. Such tank farm or delivery facilities constitute an integral part of the pipeline system and are required at "break-out" points of "take-off" stations. Their purpose is to slow down the movement of petroleum products in the larger main line so that they can be transferred or routed into a smaller lateral line. In negotiating the purchase of the farm for a take-off station provided rezoning or a certificate for conditional use was

granted, it is not disclosed whether or not the pipeline company considered the possibility that the erection thereon of the requisite facilities might violate the provisions of the county zoning ordinance. Rather, the record shows that only the practicality of the location, the availability of the property, the hydraulics of the pipeline system and the economics in operating from that particular point were given consideration.

The protestants, besides contending that the tank farm or delivery facilities are not such "public utility structures" as are conditionally permissible in an agricultural district, further contend, among other things, that the pipeline company is neither a common carrier nor a public utility; that the company as an optionee lacked capacity to apply for conditional use of the optioned property; and that the action taken by the board of appeals was arbitrary and ...


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