Court review of case asked

Arundel asks state to reverse latest ruling in landfill dispute

Permit loss in question

Officials say decision endangers laws of other counties, too

January 24, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

After losing the latest appellate round in a decade-long battle over a proposed rubble landfill in Odenton, Anne Arundel County is asking Maryland's highest court to review a ruling that would allow a waste-management company to seek state approval even though its zoning permit had expired.

In a 14-page petition filed Monday with the state Court of Appeals, the county argues that it was obeying its own laws in rescinding the permit of National Waste Managers Inc. under a county requirement that work begin on a project within two years of the permit's issuance.

It is not the county's fault, the petition says, that the company failed to keep the permit alive during its protracted legal fight with the local government.

Last fall, the state Court of Special Appeals ruled that the county could not let the clock run on National Waste Managers' permit while it was fighting the company in court to keep the landfill project from progressing.

Anne Arundel's Office of Law contends that if the latest ruling is allowed to stand, it will effectively rewrite the county code and make it impossible for local governments to determine the timing of development projects.

"We have a pretty good chance of having [the review granted], because it's an issue that affects several other counties statewide with similar county codes," said Hamilton F. Tyler, Anne Arundel's assistant county attorney.

He said last fall's decision might "wreak havoc" for Anne Arundel and other counties because it extends the validity of zoning permits if litigation ties up a development endeavor.

"Other counties could be subjected to this Special Appeals decision," he said.

The county argues in its petition that local laws "dictate the death" of an unused permit within a specified time because "communities and circumstances change, sometimes significantly, over time."

Also, the requirements a developer is to meet should periodically be examined to make sure the proposed use will be "appropriate and compatible" for the district where the project is situated, the county petition says.

The case involves Chesapeake Terrace, owned by developer Warren E. "Cookie" Halle, along Conway Road west of Crofton. Halle, through his National Waste Managers Inc., proposed creating a landfill there in 1989 and applied to the county and state for the necessary permits.

It took six years and several legal disputes reaching the Court of Special Appeals before the company won zoning approval from the county. Even then, the county did not notify the Maryland Department of the Environment, which issues permits for rubble landfills but begins its review only after a project has been approved at the county level.

The county was eventually found in contempt of Anne Arundel Circuit Court for failing to notify the state by including the rubble landfill project in its solid waste management plan. The contempt ruling was affirmed by the Court of Special Appeals.

The county finally sent an approval letter to the MDE in August 1997, under order of the Circuit Court, but three weeks later notified the environmental agency that the two-year zoning permit for Halle's project had expired, again putting the brakes on the state permit process.

The time limit on the permit was at the center of the case heard by the Court of Special Appeals last fall. The judges sent the case back to the Circuit Court.

The county has said it does not need the landfill, and area residents have opposed it because of the prospect that dozens of trailers and dump trucks would transport rubble through the heavily traveled intersection of Routes 3 and 424.

The property is near the fork of the Patuxent and Little Patuxent rivers, and residents fear the possible effect on wildlife of any environmental mishap.

Steven P. Resnick, attorney for National Waste Managers, did not return calls yesterday. Tyler, the county's lawyer, said the company has 15 days to file a response to the Court of Appeals petition.

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