Judge says N. Carroll Farms can expand Court also rules to limit appeals of zoning rulings

January 15, 1996|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,SUN STAFF

After more than a year of legal wrangling, a Manchester developer has won court approval to begin expanding North Carroll Farms, a Hampstead subdivision.

In the same Jan. 5 decision, Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. also ruled that a recent Hampstead law allowing any taxpayer to appeal decisions of the town's Planning and Zoning Commission is invalid.

Before the law was passed last summer, only adjacent property owners or residents deemed "aggrieved" had standing to appeal commission decisions to the town's Board of Zoning Appeals.

"I was very pleased to see the decision," said Martin K. P. Hill, whose plan for North Carroll Farms Section IV has have been challenged by Hampstead residents since from the moment it was approved in August 1994.

"I hope this sends a message to the town of Hampstead that their overzealous adoption of new laws cannot be continued without a full awareness of what's legal," Mr. Hill said. "Isn't the American justice system great?"

Mr. Hill has complained that town officials elected last spring on a controlled-growth platform have been approving new laws too quickly and unnecessarily.

Council members, however, have defended their rapid fire approval of growth-related ordinances by saying they are merely doing what the public elected them to do. in a landslide election.

The Mr. Hill, who has built more than 800 homes in Hampstead during the past decade, plans 220 more homes in the single-family and townhouse development of North Carroll Farms. The project has been on hold for almost 18 months. a year and a half.

When the expansion was approved, residents complained that commission members gave the go-ahead for the project before residents were able to raise concerns at a public hearing about overcrowding and rapid growth in the north Carroll town.

Residents appeal decision

A month later, four residents appealed the decision to the town's Board of Zoning Appeals, arguing that the expansion would break Hampstead's already strained road, school and water systems.

The residents -- including Councilman Stephen A. Holland, who was elected last spring -- also argued that commission members did not follow the town's adequate-facilities ordinance when approving the subdivision.

Hampstead's adequate-facilities ordinance prohibits new construction if the town's infrastructure -- such as roads and schools -- is are inadequate to handle new residents. Currently, ZTC Many of the schools that which serve Hampstead have been deemed crowded by Carroll County officials. Meanwhile, the State Highway Administration has said several town intersections are inadequate.

In March 1995, zoning board members dismissed the appeal, saying the residents didn't have standing because the expansion would not harm them any more than other Hampstead residents.

Last summer, a newly elected Hampstead mayor and Town Council passed the law Judge Beck struck down earlier this month.

Judge Beck rules

Judge Beck ruled that state law does not expressly give municipalities the right to decide who can appeal commission decisions.

"I'm obviously disappointed and disagree with his conclusion," said Thomas J. Gisriel, the attorney who represented the residents. "I don't agree with the analysis he used."

Mr. Gisriel had argued that although state law doesn't specifically give municipalities the right to legislate who can appeal commission decisions, it doesn't exclude that power either.

Judge Beck's analysis "says you just have to follow the letter of state law, that municipalities don't have any power at all," Mr. Gisriel said. "The state statute doesn't forbid anybody from appealing.

"That's a distinction the judge seems to have missed altogether."

Last week, Hampstead officials and the residents said they had not decided whether to appeal Judge Beck's decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

"We've had one council meeting canceled because of the storm," said Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, noting that council members expected to discuss the court decision at that meeting.

"There's been no dialogue since the decision was rendered."

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