Judge Sybert to rule soon on general plan, rezoning

May 15, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Circuit Court Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. said Friday that he will decide within 10 days whether to issue a summary judgment in a case brought by five neighborhood activists who want him to declare invalid the county's 1990 general plan and 1992 comprehensive rezoning of the west.

A summary judgment is one in which both parties agree to the facts of the case and ask the judge for a binding ruling. If there is no such ruling, the case proceeds to trial.

In the case before Judge Sybert, the facts are about the only thing to which the county and the complainants -- Susan Gray of Highland, Pauline Sieverding of Elkridge and three other activists -- agree.

Ms. Gray and Ms. Sieverding, who are attorneys, asked Judge Sybert to rule that the plan and the comprehensive rezoning are invalid because neither is subject to a veto by the county executive or a voter referendum.

Deputy County Solicitor Paul T. Johnson asked the judge to rule that the plan and the rezoning were approved in accordance with county law.

"The county's argument is that the general plan is simply a guide," Ms. Sieverding told Judge Sybert. "Our argument is that it is a piece of legislation" that can be vetoed by the executive or put on the ballot and decided by voters.

Ms. Gray argued that the general plan and comprehensive rezoning are of such magnitude that they should be subject to referendum or a veto. "At some point, this has to be based on the referendum of the people," she said. "The County Council can't strip away that power."

Zoning attorney Richard Talkin, who joined Mr. Johnson in defense of the suit, told Judge Sybert that "there is a very basic issue to be decided in the cross motions for summary judgment: Does the County Council, by virtue of the county charter, have authority to act?"

The issue is not what is contained in the general plan, but did the council have the authority -- as the charter says it does -- to pass the plan by resolution, Mr. Talkin argued. Mr. Talkin contended that the law giving the council that authority was subject to veto and referendum, but neither occurred.

"It is an extremely important case," Mr. Johnson said. "If Ms. Gray is successful, the effect will be that no zoning exists in Howard County other than that in use at the time of the 1960 general plan.

"The power of referendum is not sacrosanct; it can be limited," he said, noting that the council takes other actions, such as approving the budget, that are not subject to voter referendum or an executive veto.

"If every council action could be taken to referendum, it would bring county government to a halt," he said.

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