Court rulings stall limits on growth Happy developers hope decisions will foster compromise

They want voice in reviews

Carroll commissioner sees boost for move to abolish appeals panel

September 21, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The battleground in Carroll County's residential growth war moved from the county planning commission to circuit court last week, where developers won three important victories.

Privately, developers and their attorneys are elated. Publicly, they are offering an olive branch, saying they simply want to be included in a development review process they feel has excluded them for the past 15 months.

In addition, they hope the court action will prod county officials to give them a voice in crafting the county's adequate-facilities law. And they hope the decisions will encourage planning commission members to compromise.

"I hope these decisions mean that the development community and the county will be able to work out a reasonable, dependable phasing plan [in an adequate-facilities law] that everyone will be able to work with," said developer Richard L. Hull, president of Carroll Land Services Inc.

Westminster attorney David K. Bowersox, who won one of the cases for his client in circuit court last week, agreed.

"The matters expressed in these [judicial] opinions seem to be the same ideas we've been trying to get across to the planning commission for months" without success, he said.

County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown sees the court rulings as a boost for a proposal to eliminate the county Board of Zoning Appeals, a move that would force developers to appeal any disputed ruling by the planning commission directly to circuit court.

Brown, a co-sponsor of the proposal with Commissioner Richard T. Yates, said last week's court rulings make it more imperative for planning commission appeals to go directly to circuit court.

"There is no sense in one group of individuals untrained in legal matters being overturned by another group of individuals untrained in legal matters," he said. "Appeals should go directly to circuit court."

Flawed criteria

Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. ruled Monday that the planning commission had used flawed criteria in denying a Pikesville-based developer permission to finish Eden Farms, a 101-lot subdivision in Westminster, because of inadequate space in schools.

The planning commission adopted the criteria for determining school crowding in June 1996 and has been applying them since. Developers contended the criteria were too rigid to adequately address school capacity.

No alleged error needed

The county's second court setback came Tuesday, when Judge Francis M. Arnold ruled the Board of Zoning Appeals had a right to overturn planning commission decisions even if no error was alleged.

The Board of County Commissioners had sued, arguing that the board could hear appeals only when an error was alleged. Arnold ruled the board could hear any planning commission case from the beginning.

Subdivision allowed

On Thursday, Beck appeared to underscore Arnold's ruling when he affirmed a Board of Zoning Appeals decision to allow an Owings Mills developer to start a 77-lot subdivision off Uniontown Road in southwest Westminster.

The planning commission had denied the developer's request, but the appeals board said the subdivision could proceed as long as the developer did not sell or obtain building permits on most of the lots until construction of Cranberry Station Elementary School had begun.

The Board of Zoning Appeals has reversed the planning commission six times and affirmed it twice in the 15 months since the commission adopted its school criteria.

The planning commission appealed four of those reversals and has not decided whether to appeal two others. Developers have appealed their reversals, too.

The Board of County Commissioners is scheduled to vote Thursday on the proposal to eliminate the appeals board.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell opposes the proposal, calling it an example of "Brown and Yates messing around with things that have worked for years."

"I definitely want to manage our growth relative to the facilities that we can provide," Dell said.

"All this confusion, commotion and controversy wouldn't have happened if three years ago the commissioners had written an adequate-facilities ordinance."

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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