Opponents of school site get a hearing

Arguments on 2 issues tied to Marriottsville tract are presented

October 16, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Residents opposed to a Marriottsville high school site said they won a small victory yesterday when Howard Circuit Court Judge James B. Dudley heard arguments in the case they brought against the County Council.

"The fact that Dudley is holding a hearing is good news," plaintiff Chuck T. Lacey wrote in an e-mail sent to his neighbors. "It looks like we have at least gotten to first base."

Yesterday's hearing dealt with two issues - a motion to amend the lawsuit and a motion to dismiss it - though neither was resolved.

"I'll take the matter under advisement," Dudley said at the close of the hourlong hearing. "I'm in court every single day, so when I'll get a chance to write this up, I have no idea."

In February, Lacey - who was not at the hearing yesterday - asked for judicial review of construction exceptions that the County Council granted the Board of Education, claiming two planned variances in the structure's height and setback were given without any study of the impact.

In return, the County Council filed a motion to dismiss the request for review in June, stating that citizens did not have the right to second-guess legislative council decisions through the courts.

Arguments were first heard in August and Lacey's attorney, Allen Dyer, then filed a second request with the suit. It asked the court to direct the County Council to apply the normal construction-exception standards to the high school project - namely by weighing their suitability - which Dyer said members did not do.

County Council attorney Paul T. Johnson said Lacey's case has no legs because the law does not specifically provide for judicial review of such County Council variance decisions.

"There's clearly no statutory right of appeal," Johnson said, adding later, "If this is wrong in the way it's been interpreted, it's been interpreted in the wrong way for over 30 years."

Dyer and the residents interested in the case contend the right of appeal is implied.

"It galls me that a decision has been made and there's no way of appealing it. There's something wrong with that scenario," said Barry W. Casanova, an attorney and a Catonsville resident who has land in Marriottsville on which he plans to build.

Casanova said he opposes placing the school on a 43-acre parcel across the street from Mount View Middle School because the site is inadequate.

But some in the school system say such concerns are a cover for people who do not want the school and its increased traffic, noise and lights in their back yards.

Not true, Casanova said, adding that even if it were, that would not be a problem.

"The needs and desires [of property owners] should be considered," Casanova said.

This is the second legislative appeal brought by Marriottsville residents.

The other questioned the legitimacy of a septic system permit, but it was dismissed last month by administrative law judge Yvette N. Diamond, who said the residents as a group did not have the legal standing to claim a grievance.

Lacey has filed an appeal of Diamond's decision in Circuit Court, along with a request that development be halted on the site until after the appeal is heard.

County education officials said the court proceedings have caused multiple delays and boosted the school's price tag by $5 million.

The increased cost is related to expedited construction so the school can be opened by an August 2005 deadline.

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