Opponents of school site lose in court

Judge dismisses appeal of council's action, but grants group a hearing


October 24, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Marriottsville residents who don't want a new high school built in their back yards got mixed results this week when Howard County Circuit Judge James B. Dudley dismissed an appeal they had filed on one motion, and then granted the group another hearing on the next.

The residents had complained in court that the County Council erred in allowing construction exceptions for the school, claiming members did not study the impact of the changes or apply proper zoning laws to them.

But in an order signed Monday, Dudley found that the group was not entitled to question the council's conclusions.

"No right of appeal from these variance decisions is authorized in the [Howard County] Charter, the Code or the Zoning Regulations," Dudley wrote. "Therefore, the Council's Motion to Dismiss the appeal filed in this case must be granted."

Chuck T. Lacey, director of the residents group known as the Citizens for Adequate School Facilities, was frustrated by Dudley's decision.

"The council can use this ruling to pass whatever they want without fear of having a veto by the executive or the right for citizens to appeal," Lacey said.

A second order from Dudley, however, said the judge would hold a hearing, scheduled for Nov. 26, to consider standards the County Council should use in granting variances.

"We have won the right of judicial review," said Lacey's attorney, Allen Dyer, who expects the hearing to be intensely focused on one issue, unlike previous inquiries that have dealt with multiple legal topics.

"We're not talking about [legal] standing anymore, we're not talking about jurisdiction anymore," Dyer said. "We're not talking about anything but what standard must the County Council use when it steps in for the County Board of Appeals and decides whether or not to grant a variance for public property."

Council members now use as their guide whether the variance "serves the health, welfare, safety or morals of Howard County," said Sheila M. Tolliver, council administrator.

Tolliver was helping put the finishing touches on a bill prefiled yesterday by council Chairman Guy Guzzone that spells out the criteria to clear confusion.

"It really just states what has been the case all along, but what has been called into question," Tolliver said.

Lacey's group would like stronger standards than those applied, and members hope Dudley will agree.

"Hope is something that everybody needs in life," Lacey said.

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