South County Redistricting Case Gets Tossed from Court
Earlier this week, Circuit Court Judge Philip Caroom issued an opinion on the various motions pending in a rezoning case brought by citizens and civic groups in South County. The lawsuit revolved around the 2011 countywide redistricting process. In that process, Anne Arundel CountyCouncil members voted to change the zoning on designated properties and parcels,a once every ten years process.
According to Chesapeake Legal Defense attorney Russ Stevenson, Judge Caroom ruled against the citizen groups with respect to almost all of the motions in their complaint. Stevenson said that, as a result, the case was dismissed in its entirety.
In 2011, Anne Arundel County rezoned properties in all areas of the county under what is know as “Comprehensive Rezoning.” This is a legislative process where County Council members have the opportunity to change the zoning on properties and parcels in their districts. During that process, Council District 7, (including parts of South County) had the most changes introduced, all of which were upzones, making denser property use acceptable.
At each meeting where South County came up, many South County residents testified to the council that they wanted to keep the rural nature of South County. In the final package, things didn’t entirely go their way.
One of the bigger parcels, Route 2 at 214 in Edgewater, was not upzoned. But, there were a few contentious changes, including the old Southern District Police station at the entrance to Edgewater Beach neighborhood and three properties around the Lothian traffic circle.
Typically, properties go through the Anne Arundel County Department of Planing and Zoning on Riva Road for any zoning changes. There, professional planners help to determine if properties are correctly zoned for business, residential warehouse, marine or commercial. That is a judicial process. A property owner goes in, gets a hearing, brings reasons for the change. Signs are posted on the property and letters are sent to neighbors in case they have a reason to intercede. At the hearing, planners give thumbs up or thumbs, neighbors may testify and a hearing officer makes a decision. When you walk out the door, you are finished. If you did not get the answer you wanted, there is no place else to go. If they say no, it isn’t going to happen.
But the legislative process allows those property owners to take a second bite of the rezoning apple. At the Council, constituents can lobby their elected representative to get the change, even if planners don’t agree. Others bypass zoning altogether and go to their council member so that neighbors aren’t notified, big signs don’t go up, etc.
In 2011, properties including the Lothian traffic circle (where Maryland Routes 2, 422 and 408 come together) were upzoned, or changed from a rural/agricultural zoning to a business/commercial zoning. In addition, the former police station was changed to allow a car dealership to go in adjacent to homes in the community.
At that time, Stevenson said, “the main thrust of the argument is that the county is required by Maryland law to implement the comprehensive General Development Plan and it failed to do so.”
In March of 2012, 17 plaintiffs signed on to a lawsuit asking the court to retroactively quash the changes and restore the properties to their previous zoning label. That lawsuit did not go forward.
In May, the plaintiffs refiled. That lawsuit was the one impacted in the opinion that was issued earlier this week by Judge Caroom.
Right now, attorney Stevenson said that they are looking at the opinion to decide if there is any way that they can move forward and block the change. Otherwise, the rezoning decisions made by the council will stand.