Hampstead homeowners ask attorney general to block 220-house project

November 06, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

An opinion sought from the Maryland attorney general's office may help determine when 220 houses will be built in the North Carroll Farms neighborhood of Hampstead.

Hampstead's Board of Zoning Appeals delayed action on two related cases Thursday pending an opinion on whether a subdivision may be deferred because public services are considered inadequate.

Area homeowners have appealed the town Planning and Zoning Commission's Aug. 29 preliminary approval of North Carroll Farms Section IV.

They say the approval was in error because schools, water and roads in Hampstead are inadequate or approaching inadequacy.

Martin K. P. Hill, president of Woodhaven Building & Development Inc., also has appealed the decision. He says the commission should not have imposed a condition limiting the number of lots he can record to 50 a year after it granted subdivision approval.

Town officials are considering 50-lot legislation to bring Hampstead in line with a 50-lot limit ordinance Carroll County is drafting.

"This does not mean we will simply accept the attorney general's opinion," said Gary Bauer, board chairman. "We will wait 60 days for the opinion to come down from the attorney general's office and will make our decision based on that opinion."

No other jurisdiction with an adequate facilities ordinance ever has requested an opinion from the attorney general's office about when the law can be applied, said Jack Schwartz, chief counsel for the opinions, advice and legislation division.

Before a standing-room-only crowd, Thomas J. Gisriel, attorney for the homeowners, presented witnesses who described three- to four-mile backups on Route 30, school storage closets being used as classrooms and a moratorium on watering lawns that has been in effect since spring. Meanwhile, Elwood Swam, Mr. Hill's attorney, tried to show that the definition of inadequate is flexible, particularly because an elementary school is on the master plan and portable classrooms have been placed at local schools.

He also asked that the homeowners' case be dismissed because the applicants were not any more inconvenienced by )) the inadequate facilities than any other Hampstead resident.

"The standard is that they are aggrieved and that it is not only special unto them, but different from the general public," Mr. Swam told the board, which did not move to dismiss the case.

In addition, Mr. Swam failed in his effort to have board member Denise Justus -- a resident of North Carroll Farms who expressed concern in 1991 over expansion in the area -- recuse herself from hearing this case.

"Yes, I feel I can be honest and fair to both sides," Ms. Justus said. "I have nothing against builders. My concern is at what point services are considered inadequate."

Ten counties and seven municipalities in Maryland -- of 23 counties and 110 municipalities with planning and zoning authority -- have adequate facilities ordinances, said Jim Peck, associate director for research with the Maryland Municipal League.

Six of the seven are Carroll County municipalities -- all but Taneytown and Union Bridge -- Mr. Peck said. The seventh is Laurel, he said.

Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and St. Mary's counties have adequate facilities ordinances.

"It's relatively few statewide," he said. "Among the municipalities outside of Carroll County, it's very few."

However, the point at which a service is deemed inadequate enough to stop building is up for debate, particularly because the laws haven't been tested in Maryland courts.

"It's a chicken-and-egg sort of thing that can arise out of the construction of the ordinance itself," said Robert McNamara, a planner with the state Office of Planning.

"What does inadequate mean?" he asked rhetorically. "Does it mean the school is there and the doors are open? That it appears in the capital budget? Or that there is simply a plan in the future to build in the area?"

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