Howard zoning procedures withstand legal challenge Appeals court ruling relieves developers

November 15, 1995|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

A 2-year-old legal challenge to Howard County's zoning procedures, which left some developers uncertain about going ahead with projects, has been turned aside by the state's highest court.

The state Court of Appeals last week affirmed rulings that upheld the zoning procedures, by denying an appeal by slow-growth activist Susan B. Gray of Highland in the western part of the county.

The ruling means that millions of dollars in developments approved by the county zoning office can proceed. Had the court ruled otherwise, projects such as a Wal-Mart planned for Ellicott City and a waste transfer station proposed for Elkridge might have been jeopardized.

"Most projects have gone ahead, but some attorneys had clients who were not able to receive financing as long as this case was before the courts," said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

Ms. Gray, who unsuccessfully ran for county executive last fall, contended in her suit that the county's plan for growth -- and zoning based on that plan -- is illegal. She argued that the growth plan should have been adopted as a bill by the County Council and should have been subject to a voter referendum.

But the Circuit Court and the state Court of Special Appeals ruled otherwise. They said passage of the plan by use of a council resolution and implementation of zoning decisions by administrative acts of the council sitting as the Zoning Board were legal.

Although Ms. Gray failed in court, she persuaded voters that future zoning should be subject to the county executive's veto and a voter referendum. Voters passed a charter amendment last year making future zoning subject to those conditions.

Ms. Gray had hoped the courts would invalidate zoning decisions based on the county's former way of operating. She did not respond to a phone message yesterday.

The courts did not find her arguments convincing. "There has been no showing that [further] review is desirable and in the public interest," state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy said in a two-paragraph order dated Nov. 8.

"The suit was without any grounds," County Executive Charles I. Ecker said yesterday. "It's a shame it was filed. It cost a lot of people a lot of money."

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