An attorney representing Carroll County has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the county's yearlong growth freeze.
The motion to dismiss says the commissioners have an undisputed right to change land-use laws, even when those changes might cost developers and landowners money. The county also asked a Carroll County Circuit Court judge to move the case to U.S. District Court because the lawsuit raises a constitutional question.
Developer JFJME Family LLC filed the suit in Circuit Court last month, but Judge Michael M. Galloway agreed last week that it should be moved to District Court. Attorney Daniel Karp, representing the county, filed the motion to dismiss last week as well.
James Harris, managing member of JFJME, said he would rather the case be heard in local court and that he will withdraw the part of the suit that addresses constitutional questions so Galloway can hear it. Harris said his attorney has filed a request to have the case returned to Circuit Court.
Harris' suit asks a judge to force the county commissioners to process an application for a three-home subdivision north of Westminster. It also asks the judge to declare the growth freeze "null and void," and to assess $1 million in punitive damages and $500,000 in compensatory damages against the commissioners.
The suit, filed Aug. 5 and served a few days later, says the commissioners lack the power under Maryland law to impose the growth freeze. The suit also says the freeze is unfair because it does not apply equally to all subdivisions in the county. The freeze includes exemptions for low-income and senior housing projects, and it does not apply to projects in the county's eight municipalities.
Karp, in his motion to dismiss, argues that JFJME's complaint does not show that the freeze will cause financial damage to the developer. Karp further argues that groups such as the elderly or disabled receive special consideration under many federal laws and that courts have traditionally judged such exemptions rational.
JFME's three lots were among 1,700 that had passed early stages of the county's development review process but cannot be processed for the next nine months because of the freeze. Though JFJME is thus far the only company to challenge the freeze in court, more than 20 other landowners and developers filed administrative appeals to the county Board of Zoning Appeals. The board has rejected the appeals it has heard so far, and land-use lawyers have predicted that those cases will end up in court as well.