Zoning board rulings upheld

Decisions backing freeze survive judicial review

Subdivision plans at issue

Appellate court to rule on moratorium's legality

July 25, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County scored one minor court victory last week in its yearlong battle to curb runaway growth.

Carroll County Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway upheld several decisions handed down by the county Board of Zoning Appeals that validated the yearlong freeze. The moratorium was imposed by the county commissioners in June last year and lifted last month.

The ruling filed Wednesday is a judicial review and does not go to the heart of the issue: the legality of the commissioners' action.

"The really weighty decision will be issued by the appellate court," said County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender.

In the past few months, Galloway has granted seven developers injunctions that would block the county from enforcing the freeze. County officials remain steadfast and have appealed the injunctions to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Nine lawsuits are in the appeals system, with three of those pending before the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

The commissioners enacted the freeze to give their staff time to revamp growth-related ordinances and to plan for the roads, schools and utilities that new residential growth demands.

The freeze closed the door on new subdivisions on land covered by adequate facilities laws designed to prevent growth from overwhelming county services. It also has delayed development on about 1,700 lots that had passed through earlier stages in the county's subdivision review process.

Many developers had received certificates from the county saying their proposed projects would not strain schools, roads, and water and sewer capacity and could move forward.

Galloway wrote that the certificates could be considered contracts and that developers who hold the documents could reasonably assume the county broke its promise by imposing the freeze. The county has argued that the certificates offer timelines for the projects, not guarantees that they would move forward.

About 36 developers initially filed petitions protesting the freeze with the Board of Zoning Appeals, a panel that consistently refused to reverse the commissioners' growth policy. Most of the petitioners appealed the zoning board's decision to Circuit Court. Galloway ruled on five of those cases last week.

In each case, Galloway said that the language of the ordinance was clear, that the county planning director could not continue the review process once the commissioners enacted a deferral and that the zoning appeals board had no authority to strike the ordinance.

The court affirmed the zoning board decisions.

"In a nutshell, the court said it was outside the purview of the BZA to delve into the legislative authority of the county commissioners," said Millender. "We are absolutely pleased that the court has affirmed our position."

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