Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit On Howard Land-use Decisions

August 01, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Thursday aimed at overturning 15 years of Howard County land-use decisions, claiming that the issue is one for state courts, not federal.

The 124-page suit filed in February by a group of development critics charged that county officials illegally made land-use decisions by County Council resolution, denying citizens their constitutional right to petition them to referendum, which is allowed only for council bills. The principal plaintiffs - Susan B. Gray, Frank Martin and Paul F. Kendall - said the county has violated the charter for years. They have particularly criticized plans to develop hundreds of new homes at Turf Valley, an 800-acre golf and hotel complex in western Ellicott City, and are allies of other plaintiffs trying to block a Wegmans supermarket from being built in Columbia. Work on both projects is under way despite the lawsuits.

In their suit, Gray, Martin and Kendall sought declaration that dozens of county land-use decisions were unconstitutional, federal supervision of county zoning, and $10 million in damages. The suit was based on years of frustration among some residents who feel elected officials allow too much influence by politically connected developers, landowners and their lawyers.

District Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled it was unclear whether the county charter requires what Gray and the other plaintiffs claim, and that it was not his business.

Motz stayed claims of monetary damages, in case state courts eventually rule that the county charter was violated.

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