Mercifully, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals has put an end to the three-year tussle over the expansion of Villa Julie College in Baltimore County's Green Spring Valley, ruling favorably and forcefully for the college.
The tortuous route to the court's finding began in July 1992, when county Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt stated a 31-page decision that the college could expand onto land formerly zoned for farming. However, he added, the growth of student enrollment would have to be limited.
Neither officials of the private college nor the local gentry accepted Mr. Schmidt's conclusion. So both sides took their arguments to the next level, the county Board of Appeals. One year after the zoning commissioner's ruling, the appeals board upheld it. Not surprisingly, the two sides were still unsatisfied. They appealed again, this time to the county Circuit Court.
On a technical point, a Circuit Court judge sent the case back to the county Board of Appeals. That's when college officials decided to bring the matter before the state's Court of Special Appeals.
The appellate court's policy is to hear only cases that have come from lower courts. The Villa Julie expansion had been handled strictly at the administrative level. But the appellate judges were so outraged at how the case had become a legal game of ping-pong, they stepped in, citing the "expenditure of judicial time and public expense" already wasted. As a result, Villa Julie won the zoning exception that will allow it to build 98,000 square feet of new classrooms, laboratories and study areas. Also, Mr. Schmidt's cap on enrollment, an action beyond his powers, was thrown out.
Mr. Schmidt rightly noted in his original 31-page ruling that Green Spring Valley is "an agricultural prize of Baltimore County." Indeed, valley residents are often justified in their battles against development that threatens this magnificent and environmentally sensitive area.
Yet Villa Julie College is a prize as well, not just of the county but of the entire region. Over four decades, it has built an outstanding record of quickly placing graduates in productive jobs. It has been a good neighbor in the valley, too. By pledging expansion that will place the new construction well off Green Spring Valley Road, staggered class times that will at least minimize local traffic congestion, and an on-site plant that will provide improved treatment of wastewater, Villa Julie should continue being a good neighbor.