Allegany Developer Sues State Agencies

July 02, 2009|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,

A developer who wants to build 4,300 homes in a rural part of Allegany County and the county's elected commissioners have filed suit against Maryland's environmental and planning agencies, accusing them of illegally blocking the project.

In the lawsuit, filed late last week in Allegany Circuit Court in Cumberland, Terrapin Run LLC is seeking $16 million in damages, contending that the state's denial has made it impossible to develop the 935-acre tract near Green Ridge State Forest. The county commissioners asked the court to make the agencies approve the project.

The Maryland Department of the Environment rejected the county's request to include the Terrapin Run project in its state-sanctioned water and sewer plan. The department acted on advice from the state Department of Planning, which said the development was not consistent with Allegany's long-term growth plan.

The Terrapin Run development has been a lightning rod for debate over the state's Smart Growth policies since it was proposed in 2005. The Maryland Department of Planning joined environmentalists and residents opposed to the project in a court case challenging the county's approval of a special exception allowing the developer to proceed. Critics said that building a new town would not be in keeping with state policies seeking to concentrate development around existing communities or with the county's growth plan. The Court of Appeals ruled last year, however, that the county had acted properly in approving the project and that local zoning decisions need not follow growth plans to the letter.

Robert S. Paye, a lawyer for Terrapin Run, said the state agencies should have approved the county's water and sewer plan, given the decision of the state's highest court. He contended that the development would give a needed boost to the economy of Allegany.

But Richard E. Hall, Maryland's secretary of planning, said, "We're sticking to our guns on this." He noted that the state's initial rejection of the county's request came in late 2007, before the Court of Appeals issued its ruling. He also noted that the O'Malley administration had won General Assembly passage of a new law effectively reversing the appeals court ruling.

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