Arundel councilman squares off with lawyer on home office

Jerry Walker and Ann Fligsten have debated South County development

November 11, 2011|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Ann Fligsten, a noted land-use attorney in Anne Arundel County, has long voiced her opinion on planning and zoning issues, testifying before the County Council and meeting with county officials.

As chairwoman of the Growth Action Network, Fligsten helped organize a lawsuit filed last month alleging that the County Council violated state law by passing several amendments to a zoning bill that would allow development that opponents believe is prohibited by long-established county guidelines.

Now she finds herself in a more personal battle.

Councilman Jerry Walker, a Gambrills Republican whose rural district is the subject of the pending lawsuit, is attempting to challenge Fligsten's request to rezone her husband's longtime Severna Park office space — in another council district.

Fligsten says she's attempting to fix an error made years ago.

"It just feels like it's become really personal and retaliatory," said Fligsten. "But I am just trying to show him that this didn't just happen. We've been here forever."

Walker said Fligsten's attempt to change the zoning on the small ranch house near Benfield Road from residential to commercial, which county zoning officials have signed off on and included in the pending bill, should be treated like other similar applications. Walker denied any retaliation, saying, "I don't remember seeing her name on the lawsuit." But he said he was puzzled by the request.

"I find it interesting that she is opposed to other upzonings of residential property to commercial and yet when it comes to her property, she supports commercial," said Walker, who added that it was not abnormal for a councilman to introduce a zoning amendment in a different district.

Since the Fligstens bought the small ranch house on West Drive in 1978, Kenneth Fligsten has used it as an office for his psychiatry practice.

Zoned as commercial property when they bought it, they were surprised when 30 years later a contractor who was installing a handicapped ramp sought permits for the project and discovered the property's designation had been changed to residential.

According to zoning records, the change was made in 1989, though Ann Fligsten said she was never notified. She says they've always paid commercial property taxes on the house, which has parking space for six cars and is situated near a real estate company and a grocery store.

Al Johnston, vice president of the Greater Severna Park Council, which supports Fligsten's rezoning application, said the 1989 change might have been a mapping error.

"The community has no objection to it," said Johnston.

Council Chairman Richard Ladd, a Severna Park Republican, said he hasn't had time to review Walker's amendment.

"I'm not going to speculate what his motives are," said Ladd, who added, "There is something to be said about commercial creep."

Fligsten, meanwhile, says she's gathered her documentation and is attempting to prove her case to Walker.

"I'm hoping that when Jerry sees all the documentation about how long it's been commercial, that he will withdraw the amendment."

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