General Plan, rezonings ruled valid by judge

June 30, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Howard Circuit Court Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. has ruled that the county's 1990 General Plan and the 1992 and 1993 comprehensive rezonings of the county are valid.

Five neighborhood activists had asked the court to overturn both the plan and the rezoning on the grounds that neither is subject to a voter referendum or a veto by the county executive.

"I'm shocked. Really, really shocked," said Jean Iampieri Quattlebaum of Ellicott City, one of the activists who brought the suit. "We had so much valid information. I'm not an attorney, but it sure looked to me like we had enough valid information."

Two of the activists, Susan Gray of Highland and Pauline Sieverding of Elkridge, are attorneys who argued the case before Judge Sybert last month.

Ms. Gray contended that the General Plan and comprehensive rezoning are of such magnitude that they should be subject to referendum or a veto. The General Plan is enacted by resolution, and comprehensive rezoning is accomplished by order of the council sitting as the Zoning Board.

Resolutions cannot be vetoed or placed on the ballot in a voter referendum. Zoning Board orders cannot be vetoed or put on the ballot either, but they can be appealed to the Circuit Court.

Ms. Gray wanted more. "At some point, this has to be based on the referendum of the people," she said last month. "The County Council can't strip away that power."

Ms. Sieverding told Judge Sybert that county attorneys were wrong in their contention that the General Plan is simply a guide. "Our argument," she said, "is that it is a piece of legislation that can be vetoed by the executive or put on the ballot and decided by voters."

Judge Sybert disagreed.

"There is no requirement in Howard County that development be consistent with the land use designations and densities recommended in the general plan," he said in his eight-page opinion. "In fact, in Howard County, the General Plan has virtually no effect without its implementation by other acts" subject to either executive veto or appeal to the Circuit Court, Judge

Sybert said in his ruling Monday.

The judge cited two cases in which the court upheld Howard County's method of implementing zoning plans as precedents.

Judge Sybert's ruling seemed to echo an argument offered by zoning attorney Richard Talkin, who joined county Deputy Solicitor Paul T. Johnson in opposing the suit.

"There is a very basic issue to be decided," Mr. Talkin said last month. "Does the County Council, by virtue of the county charter, have authority to act?" Mr. Talkin contended that it does and that the law giving the council that authority was subject to veto and referendum.

Judge Sybert agreed. "The adoption of the Howard County General Plan by council resolution and the adoption of comprehensive rezoning by decision and order of the Zoning Board . . . is well within the powers of Howard County" government, he said.

Judge Sybert also noted that Howard County has used the "same basic structure and process" since 1969.

Mr. Johnson had argued that if the suit brought by the five activists were successful, "the effect would be that no zoning exists in Howard County other than that in use at the time of the 1960 General Plan."

Ms. Quattlebaum, who was joined in her suit by Thomas Horvath of West Friendship and Gary Prestianni of Jessup, along with Ms. Gray and Ms. Sieverding, said she did not know if she and the others would appeal the case.

"We have to go back and regroup," she said.

"I am not alone, and I can't speak for the others, but I don't see how we can come this far without going for an appeal. We might do better out of Howard County."

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