An Eldersburg dental surgeon and his wife are asking Carroll County to reimburse them for $14,702 in legal expenses after they won a four-year fight to have their property rezoned.
The case began in 1989 and reached the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in 1992. In July 1993, the commissioners rezoned the 6.3-acre property in the 1200 block of Liberty Road from residential to business.
Joseph D. and Gail M. Stephens were forced on an "unwarranted journey through the court system" to fight for the rezoning, Towson attorney Charles A. Jednorski wrote in a Dec. 10 letter to the county commissioners.
The Stephenses want the county to pay for "expenses they incurred as a result of the unnecessary and protracted litigation," said Mr. Jednorski, a partner in Seiland and Jednorski.
They are asking for reimbursement under the Local Government Tort Claims Act.
County Attorney Charles W. Thompson Jr. said Friday he has referred the matter to the county's insurance company, but he does not expect the company to pay the Stephenses.
"I see it as a nonissue. I don't see any liability on the part of the county," he said.
In the spring of 1989, the board of commissioners voted against the Stephenses' request to rezone the Liberty Road property on the south side of Route 26 about 500 feet west of Route 32. Dr. Stephens had a dental office, and the family had a home and swimming pool there, county records show.
The county Board of Zoning Appeals had given Dr. Stephens permission to operate an office there in 1976.
The Stephenses argued that the county had made a mistake in zoning their property for residential use because businesses were on both sides of their property, records show. They also said the area was growing and changing and that more businesses were moving in.
The couple had been trying to sell the land as a residential property for two years before 1989 but couldn't, according to records.
The commissioners' vote on the matter was split: John L. Armacost voted against rezoning the property, Jeff Griffith voted for it and Julia W. Gouge did not vote. State law says an evenly divided vote constitutes a denial.
The Stephenses appealed the decision to Carroll Circuit Court. In January 1991, the court ordered the commissioners to rezone the property.
The county appealed that order to the Court of Special Appeals, which agreed with the lower court's decision. The county then asked the state's highest court -- the Court of Appeals -- to review the case, but the court would not.