Suit asks judge to jail Carroll zoning board

Panel, Howard developer clash over Eldersburg plan


October 29, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Attorneys for a Howard County developer have filed a lawsuit, accusing the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission of "constructive civil contempt" and asking that commission members be jailed for refusing to approve a site plan that would allow construction of a 254-unit townhouse rental complex in Eldersburg.

The petition filed last week by Carrolltowne Development Partnership in Circuit Court for Carroll County calls for a hearing and "incarceration ... to compel compliance."

"The judge could order incarceration to force compliance," said Kimberly Millender, county attorney. "For obvious reasons, we will make sure that doesn't happen."

The seven members of the planning board, which includes County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, have yet to be served with judicial papers, Millender said. They could be served individually at their homes or the developer's attorneys could ask the county to accept them.

"We will have an opportunity to respond and a hearing before the court," Millender said.

Gouge attended a National Association of Counties meeting yesterday in Washington and was unavailable for comment, but her commissioner colleagues were incensed about the suit. Commissioner Dean L. Minnich called the threat of incarceration unconscionable.

"If such a thing could really happen, I would lose even more faith in the judicial system," Minnich said yesterday.

Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. praised the planning panel and decried the lawsuit.

"To threaten people who volunteer their time for the good of their community is ridiculous," Jones said. "The developers are saying we have to let them build houses where there is no water available. No way."

The county's public water system, which serves Eldersburg and Sykesville, is at capacity. The commissioners will not allow new homes or businesses to hook into the system until they can implement plans to expand it and augment the water supply.

"We don't have the amount of water for 254 houses," said Steven C. Horn, county director of planning. "We are already bumping against the cushion we have for reserve."

Millender questioned the timing of the suit, given that the Board of Zoning Appeals is expected to render its decision today on the denial of the site plan.

"They filed for contempt while proceeding with the appeal," Millender said. "If the BZA grants relief, it could reverse the planning commission and approve the plan."

Benjamin Rosenberg, attorney for Carrolltowne Development Partnership, said yesterday that he would not comment until the BZA announces its decision.

An inadequate water supply, crowded schools and congested roads led the planning commission to deny the site plan in August. The proposed development "totally ignores every regulation we have in place to protect the citizens' quality of life," Gouge said of the decision.

For more than a decade, Carrolltowne Development Partnership has attempted to build the rental units on 20 acres near Kali Drive and Ridge Road.

The planning commission refused to approve the site plan in 1995 and again a year later, but the Circuit Court reversed those decisions and ordered the panel to approve the development five years ago. The county commissioners did not appeal the judge's ruling, and the developer did not move forward with the project.

County policy requires developers to put plans into effect within 18 months or go back to the drawing board.

The planning commissioners said the clock started ticking on the Carrolltowne plan from the time of the judge's order.

They added that any new version of the plan likely would meet the same rejection because of capacity concerns.

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