A Maryland court has rejected an appeal by the County Commissioners in a zoning dispute it characterized as a clash of expectations between rural dwellers and suburban transplants.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled earlier this month that county zoning administrators and the Board of Zoning Appeals were "arbitrary and capricious"in determining that the owner of a milk-transport business near Keymar, Maurice R. Zent, was operating an illegal junkyard on his property.
The case represents the "inevitable conflict that results during the transition of a rural community to a suburban community," the 35-page court opinion said.
"Circumstances which are accepted as natural and normal incidents of a rural society by those who are nurturedby an agrarian environment do not always match the expectations of bucolic life anticipated by suburbanites as they move out to the countryside," the court ruled.
Although the county has become more suburban in nature, development in the Keymar area has been sparse.
The business had been operated on property owned by Zent since about 1923, long before the county implemented zoning in 1965. The business was allowed to continue after the advent of zoning as a "non-conforming use" in the agricultural district.
In 1988, the county notified Zent that he was in violation of zoning laws for storing old trucks, which he keeps on the two-acre parcel off Middleburg Road as a sourcefor parts to service his vehicle fleet.
Zent, who employs 57 people and runs about 30 trucks daily from the site, appealed the zoning board's decision to Carroll Circuit Court. Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. overturned the decision, saying that storage of the vehicles was not considered a "junkyard" prior to 1988 and that no substantial evidence supported the county's "new interpretation."
The appeals court said that "every iota of evidence" supported a finding that Zent's storage of old trucks was an "accessory use" to his business, a legal use under the county zoning ordinance.
Zent said the case has been a waste of time and money -- both his own and that of taxpayers. He estimates he has spent nearly $10,000 on the case.
The county is considering appealing the decision, either to the Maryland Court of Appeals or by requesting the Court of Special Appeals to reconsider the case, said Laurell Taylor, assistant county attorney.
"We think thereare some problems with the opinion, but we don't want to go through more litigation just for the sake of winning," said Taylor. "We'd have to be concerned about the long-range effects and believe some things in it need correction, or clarification."
The attorney's office doesn't agree with the court that classifying the area as a junkyard was a change in county policy, she said.
"We've argued it was a failure to enforce the zoning ordinance fully against the Zents," she said. "When you only have two full-time zoning administrators, it's impossible to track down and keep on top of every zoning violation."
The court said the county attempted to "eliminate" the storage of trucks by the "ploy of administrative redefinition," rather than
through law or "other proper regulation."
The county maintains the authority to limit land uses it deems inappropriate, said the opinion, provided it does so "in a reasonable exercise of police powers" and "in a manner properly recognizing property rights.
"This type of decision, fraught as it is with the emerging conflicts between the vanishing agricultural character of the county and its emerging suburban character," is best made by elected officials in a public forum, not by planning and zoning officials who apply the policy, the court said.
William Dulany, Zent's attorney, argued that the county was violating his client's property rights.
"If you want to take somethingaway from somebody who's been operating for years, there's only one way you can do it -- condemnation," he said. "You can't take a person's property away without paying him for it."
Attorneys on both sides said the case could have ramifications for similar zoning disputes. The court's opinion said the judges "perceive a paucity of Marylandcases defining accessory uses" and their relationship with legal primary uses, such as the milk-trucking business.