South County Rezoning Case Goes Back to Court on Thursday
Chesapeake Legal Defense Fund attorney Russ Stevenson will be back in court on Thursday (Nov. 7) on behalf of a South County group to argue before the Court of Appeals that the Circuit Court wrongly threw out their rezoning lawsuit last October. Stevenson said that the trial judge tossed the case last October (2012) after ruling that the groups that were a party to the suit didn’t have legal standing—or a stake in the case.
The case goes back to 2011, that is when countywide comprehensive rezoning took place, where the Anne Arundel County Council had the opportunity to rezone properties outside of the traditional zoning process. This comprehensive rezoning takes place every ten years. Generally, this process is used to align property zoning designations to actual use—or to otherwise fix zoning irregularities.
In the 2011 round, Council District 7, (including parts of South County) had the most changes introduced, all of which were up-zones, making denser property use acceptable.
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. 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 might have reason to intercede.
At a hearing, planners give thumbs up or thumbs down, neighbors may testify and a hearing officer makes a decision. At the end of the process, you are finished—whether you got the answer you wanted or not. There is no place else to go. If they say no, it isn’t going to happen.
But the legislative process before the County Council allows property owners to take a different bite of the rezoning apple. In the legislative process, constituents can lobby their elected representative to get the change, even if county planners don’t agree. Through comprehensive rezoning, it is up to the County Council and the County Executive. Neighbors are not notified, signs don’t get posted—it is a whole different process.
During the 2011 rezoning, properties including parcels at 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 at the entrance to Edgewater Beach was up-zoned to allow a car dealership to go in.
The lawsuit claimed that up-zoning the parcels violated the General Development Plan and the Small Area Plan (PDF). These two document represent a roadmap of sorts—outlining how general and specific areas of the county will be utilized. Some areas will be commercial corridors, others residential. Some parcels can have marine-related enterprises, while others are allocated for agriculture or rural use.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a number of plaintiffs, including the South River Federation, Friends of Jug Bay, the civic associations of Lothian, Davidsonville and Harwood and nine citizens of Districts 6 and 7.
Stevenson said that there is no time frame for having the Court of Appeals rule on the motion to reinstate the case. They will make the arguments, then wait and see. If the case gets kicked back to the Circuit Court, Stevenson said, they may go again before the same judge, or be assigned someone new.
That is a ways down the road. Clearing the hurdle of the appeal is what’s next. The public can attend the hearing on Thursday, but the docket isn’t posted in a way that makes it very convenient for observers because they don’t assign a specific time for each case—they are heard in succession.