After Setback, South County Group Heads Back to Court Over South County Rezoning
The Harwood Civic Association is having their annual meeting on May 22 in Galesville. One of the issues that will be discussed is the Comprehensive Rezoning litigation that was recently refilled with the courts. Chesapeake Legal Alliance attorney Russ Stevenson and Planning and Zoning’s Larry Tom have been invited to speak and answer questions. In addition, Dr. Tuck Hines from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is in the lineup of featured speakers as well.
Every ten years, the county looks at rezoning through a legislative process known as Comprehensive Rezoning. The last round started in February 2010 and ended in October 2011. Download a copy of the final Bill (44-11) by clicking here.
Typically, properties are assigned zoning status through the Department of Planning and Zoning, an executive branch agency. Comprehensive rezoning is a legislative process whereby County Council members approve zoning decisions on a lot by lot basis.
The Comprehensive Rezoning Bill, 44-11, rezoned properties in council-manic districts VI and VII, which includes Crofton, Annapolis and South County.
Some South County residents were unhappy with some of the approved zoning changes and filed suit against the county to have the zoning changes halted and reversed. The byproduct of that unhappiness is a lawsuit co-signed by 17 individuals and organizations. The lawsuit is known as Harwood Civic Association v. Anne Arundel County.
In early April, the lawsuit was tossed by the court. When Maryland Circuit Court Judge Philip Caroom dismissed the case, he wrote that the people and organizations filing the lawsuit were not personally damaged by all of the aspects of Bill 44-11. In addition, Caroom said that voiding the bill in its entirety (not just the South County parcels) would require everyone impacted by the bill to sign on as participants in the lawsuit.
About 40 parcels were included in the rezoning bill. Some of the properties had no opposition and aligned the zoning to the use of the land. Adding all of those impacted would make expanding the lawsuit impractical if not impossible.
In addition, the judge said that the judicial branch has to assume that the decisions made by the legislative (the County Council) “are strongly presumed correct and given deference by the courts.”
OK. So those are the bad things—the things Judge Caroom didn’t like.
He didn’t close the door.
Lucky for those involved in the suit, Judge Caroom spelled out how such a case, theoretically, might come back to the court and be heard. He even left a window of time to refile: 30 days.
Stevenson, the attorney representing the Harwood Civic Association against the county, recently re-filed the lawsuit.
Essentially, Judge Caroom said that if the plaintiffs could demonstrate how so-called “spot zoning” is harmful to the participants in the suit, they would have a chance to be heard.
Who is Affected?
Spot zoning applies one kind of zoning to a specific parcel within a larger area that is zoned differently. Spot zoning often benefits an individual landowner or business.
The lawsuit says some up zoned parcels included in Bill 44-11, like the old police station in Edgewater and parcels around the Lothian traffic circle, are contrary to the General Development Plan (GDP) and the Small Area Plan (SAP).
These two documents, the GDP and the SAP, are roadmaps for land usage in the county.
Another reason why spot zoning is discouraged is because it can be the tipping point that converts a whole area from one use to another.
From 7 to 9 p.m. on May 22, you can learn where things stand at the Harwood Civic Association’s annual meeting at Galesville Memorial Hall, 952 Main Street in Galesville.
The agenda will include:
- opening remarks by Harwood Civic Association president Tony Gamboa.
- a talk by Dr. Tuck Hines of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
- Larry Tom of the Anne Arundel Office of Planning and Zoning, who has been invited to attend.
- and Russ Stevenson, the lead attorney in the case known as “Harwood Civic Association v. Anne Arundel County.”
- then an open forum for members.