Appeals court hears Terrapin Run case

Allegany proposal involves 4,300 homes

November 30, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

Lawyers for and against a 4,300-home development in mountainous Allegany County squared off yesterday in the Maryland Court of Appeals, arguing under close questioning by the judges over how tightly local officials must hew to state-required plans drawn up to guide a community's growth.

Robert S. Paye, a lawyer for the developer of Terrapin Run, urged the seven judges on the state's highest court to uphold the finding by Allegany's zoning appeals board that the development was "in harmony with" the county's comprehensive plan. And he asked the court to rebuff the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley for making what he described as an improper bid to assert state control over traditionally local land-use decisions.

"Why bring a case that tries to enforce restrictions against unplanned urban sprawl ... in Allegany County, which has had 40 years of recession?" Paye asked, referring to the friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Maryland Department of Planning on behalf of the project's opponents.

State Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall was on hand to watch, as lawyers sparred over a case that has drawn statewide and national attention among environmentalists and managed-growth advocates.

Terrapin Run, proposed on 935 acres near Green Ridge State Forest along scenic U.S. 40, has become a lightning rod for those urging curbs on suburban sprawl in Maryland.

William C. Wantz, the lawyer for 37 residents who filed suit to block Terrapin Run, argued that county officials had deviated unacceptably from Allegany's growth plan in approving a community the size of Frostburg, the county's second-largest city, in a rural area of farms and forest, far from any cities or towns.

Wantz said a 1992 state law requires local officials to "share the reins" with the state. One of the seven "visions" for growth in the state law calls for concentrating growth around population centers and protecting open space and environmentally sensitive areas. The county plan did not envision development of this size and density there, he said.

But Paye countered that the seven "visions" for growth required under the 1992 state planning law were general and not prescriptive. The site targeted for this project was identified in the county plan as suitable for development in a mountainous county where half the land is too steep for buildings, he said.

"What better place to implement Smart Growth than Allegany County?" Wantz replied. Given the loss of population and long quest for jobs, the county would benefit more than others economically from a sound development policy, he said.

Three of the judges grilled the lawyers about what standard they would use in deciding whether a development was in keeping with a county's plan.tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

For coverage of this development or to hear a Webcast of the arguments before the court, go to www.baltimoresun.com/terrapin.

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