Judge to rule on growth freeze

3 developers challenge legality of county's halt

authority to do so at issue

August 27, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County Circuit Court judge said he would issue a decision after hearing arguments yesterday on three local developers' challenge to the legality of the county commissioners' yearlong freeze on new development.

The developers' attorney, David K. Bowersox, said the law is the issue, and he asked for a summary judgment ruling in favor of his clients.

Bowersox argued that the county commissioners had no authority to institute the freeze in June last year. Carroll does not have a charter government that would grant such power, he said, and the officials did not seek legislation in the General Assembly that would have allowed such an action.

"It is clear that the deferral ordinance ... was outside the scope of the board of county commissioners to adopt," Bowersox argued. Their "very limited jurisdiction" has been for "administerial" matters such as levies for roads.

James L. Parsons, a Rockville attorney representing the county, asked the judge to deny the motion for summary judgment. Parsons also said the judge should not rule on this motion, but defer to the state's highest court, which has taken up a similar case.

Parsons argued that Maryland law and court decisions give authority in questions of land use - including deferrals - to local governments, including counties that have retained the commissioner system of government. The state's adequate public facilities provisions encourage localities to provide for orderly development and growth, he said.

"That's the whole purpose behind this," Parsons said. "The moratorium ... allows the county time to study and revise its zoning rules."

Since November, Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway has ordered county officials to resume processing projects involved in legal challenges by seven developers, including the 38 lots planned by the three plaintiffs in yesterday's hearing - Altieri Enterprises, Thomas A. Matthews and Curtis Lee Wasmer.

The projects from the three developers ranged from four to 10 new houses in areas near Sykesville, Finksburg, New Windsor and Westminster.

In his rulings, Galloway said that when the commissioners imposed the freeze on residential growth, the developers had received certificates from the county showing that the areas' public facilities - schools, roads, and water and sewer systems - could handle the new houses.

Although the county argued that the certificates were not a guarantee, Galloway ruled that they could be considered contracts that had been broken by the freeze.

Galloway said the Maryland Court of Appeals has scheduled arguments for Sept. 30 on the county's appeal of a preliminary injunction that he issued in February in favor of another developer, lifting the freeze on a 153-lot subdivision.

In his arguments yesterday, Bowersox reminded the judge that Carroll voters have several times rejected ballot initiatives for a charter government.

"In the 20th century, as life has become more complicated ... some jurisdictions have elected to become charter governments," giving them greater autonomy, he said. "We still today, in the absence of such specific authority, have to go to our delegation to sponsor legislation during the 90-day General Assembly session."

Carroll's yearlong freeze on new residential growth expired in June. Over that year, the processing of all development proposals - about 1,700 lots - was halted so the county could re-evaluate its growth laws.

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