Rezoning denial tied to school squeeze

January 10, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

A waterfront property may not be rezoned for residential development, the county Board of Appeals ruled yesterday, not because of environmental concerns, but because new homes would bring additional students to already overcrowded schools on the Broadneck Peninsula.

School officials said this was the first case they could recall in which school crowding was the sole reason to deny a residential rezoning request, and area residents claimed it as a victory for their schools.

"That's a good precedent," said George E. Hatch Jr., the school system's planning officer. "It's the only one that I can recall, but I hope it continues."

The board turned down a request by the Cape Corp. to rezone 3.46 wooded acres on the Little Magothy River from open space to a classification that would allow five houses per acre, or 17 homes.

The development could be expected to add four students to Cape St. Claire Elementary Schools. But Larry F. Ripley, supervisor of student demographic planning for county schools, said Cape St. Claire Elementary already is 30 students over capacity and is expected to gain up to 20 students a year through 2000. No new school is planned to relieve the crowding there, he said yesterday.

"Since this board is convinced of the need for the schools to have adequate capacity before any rezoning to allow the building of more homes and further overcrowding of the schools, it must deny the rezoning request," the board wrote.

Residents of the Broadneck Peninsula say their schools are becoming so packed that they have asked county officials to temporarily stop granting permits for new homes already zoned for development.

The board is "correct on the schools being inadequate," said Gretel Derby, past president of the Cape St. Claire Improvement Association.

"They are following county law. If the [appeals] board finds the public schools would be overburdened, they would have to deny a rezoning," said P. Tyson Bennett, lawyer for the county school board.

Cape Corp. may sue the county for depriving it of the use of the land and may appeal the decision, said Harry C. Blumenthal, the company's lawyer.

"The county has confiscated the value of this property without paying a nickel," he said.

Even if the property had been rezoned for one house, the company still could get some use from the land, Mr. Blumenthal argued. But the open-space designation permits only park and recreational uses.

"What the county has done is strip all value from this property," he said.

During the appeals hearing, Broadneck students studying environmental issues said they thought the site served as a buffer between the community and the water. Nearly 100 students signed a petition saying they believed the small forest was environmentally sensitive and important for drainage.

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