Wrong subdivision case to appeal Planning commission risks losing more than gaining in court action.

March 04, 1997

GOING TO COURT can be costly, even if the filing fee is waived and you don't have to hire a lawyer. That's an admonition that the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission should heed before proceeding to challenge the county's Board of Zoning Appeals in Circuit Court.

The risk of an unfavorable judicial ruling could far outweigh any gain from overturning a BZA decision to approve an eight-lot subdivision near Westminster.

This is not the case to fight the appeals panel, despite a simmering dispute between the two county government bodies over application of "adequate public facilities" standards to development approvals. The apparent facts favor the BZA's interpretation.

The planning commission rejected the planned Sharon's Ridge development after the school system said that nearby Friendship Valley Elementary School was overcrowded.

The Board of Zoning Appeals reversed that decision, on the basis that school authorities created the putative overcrowding by moving one class to a portable classroom in order to build a new computer lab. Besides, eight new homes would have little impact on that school's future enrollment, the appeals body noted.

In spite of its verdict, the BZA actually accepted the standards of school overcrowding (for deciding subdivision approval) laid down by the planning commission and the Board of Education. That's an important step, something that should not be jeopardized in a marginal court appeal on bad facts.

More ominously, the county and school board admit they have spent millions in development "impact fees" to purchase portable classrooms, despite the requirement that such fees be spent on permanent school facilities.

If the planning body's view prevails in court -- that the portable is a temporary response to Pleasant Valley overcrowding -- then county officials would seem to have wrongly spent impact fees for non-permanent facilities. That could be a major setback to the cause of regulating growth through adequate public facilities standards.

Prudence and a focus on longer range objectives dictate that the planning commission withdraw its appeal, and wait for a better day in which to fight in court.

Pub Date: 3/04/97

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