Greenspring project loses another round

Federal judge dismisses challenge to growth-control law in Baltimore County

September 29, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

The owners of Greenspring Racquet Club have lost another round in their effort to overturn a Baltimore County growth-control law that stops them from developing an office building project on the 5.5-acre club site at Falls and Greenspring Valley roads.

On Monday, the U.S. District Court in Baltimore dismissed the case filed by racket club owners William and Loretta Hirshfeld, calling their complaint about the county law "a poorly disguised zoning case masquerading as a collection of constitutional claims."

Julius W. Lichter, the Hirshfelds' lawyer, said the loss was a setback but he was hopeful that the owners would prevail in their challenge to the law in Baltimore County Circuit Court. A hearing in that case is set for Oct. 13.

In the federal pleading, the Hirshfelds argued that the law passed by the county last year was unconstitutional because it was "selective legislation," aimed only at stopping their project and an adjacent development at Green Spring Station.

They said the law, which limits the heights of buildings next to rural lands, deprived their land of "all or substantially all of the economic use and/or value."

But U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis rejected their argument, noting that they operate a viable business on the land and could develop another project as long as it met the height restrictions. "Greenspring has no constitutionally protected property right in the airspace," the judge wrote.

The Hirshfelds and business partner Howard Brown have tried repeatedly to find ways around the county law, which generally prohibits structures higher than 35 feet next to rural zoned land unless the developer can prove the project will not harm the surrounding area.

Last week, a county hearing officer ruled that the Hirshfelds failed to meet that standard.

The racket club owners also have failed to persuade county officials to change the zoning of their land to allow the development.

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