Justia Maryland Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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In this challenge to the action of the Prince George's County Council sitting as the District Council approving a special exception and variance sought by Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust regarding an existing store located in the Woodyard Crossing Shopping Center in Clinton, Maryland, the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the District Council has extensive authority to regulate and establish zoning laws and procedure, which includes special exception and variance application. The ZHE issued a decision denied an application for a special exception and variance sought by Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart filed exceptions to the Zoning Hearing Examiner's (ZHE) decision and requested that the District Council hear the case. Petitioners responded in opposition to Wal-Mart's exceptions. The District Council proceeded to approve Wal-Mart's application for a special exception and variance. The circuit court and Court of Special Appeals affirmed the District Council's decision. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the District Council is authorized to delegate the preparation of its opinion and order to its staff attorney; (2) the District Council rightfully exercises original jurisdiction when hearing zoning cases from the ZHE; and (3) Petitioners failed to present sufficient evidence that the District Council violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act. View "Grant v. County Council of Prince George's County" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court determining that state law preempted a local zoning authority with respect to solar energy generating systems (SEGS) that require a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) issued by the Maryland Public Service Commission and that the Commission had exclusive jurisdiction to approve the type of SEGS proposed by Perennial Solar, LLC in this case. Perennial applied to the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals (Board) for a special exception and variance to construct a SEGS. The Board granted the variance and special exception. Aggrieved landowners sought judicial review, and Washington County intervened. While the petition for judicial review was pending, Perennial moved for pre-appeal determination challenging the subject matter jurisdiction of the circuit court. The circuit court granted the motion, determining that Md. Code Ann. Pub. Util. (PU) 7-207 preempted the Washington County zoning ordinance. The court of special appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that PU 7-207 preempts by implication local zoning authority approval for the siting and location of generating stations that require a CPCN. View "Washington County v. Perennial Solar, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals held that a proposed municipal annexation that encompassed an area consisting entirely of tax-exempt properties did not require consent from the owners of such properties pursuant to Md. Code Ann. Loc. Gov't (LG) 4-403(b)(2) and that an proposed annexation plan did not attempt to usurp law enforcement jurisdiction over certain lands contained within the proposed annexation area that were owned and managed by Maryland—National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC). The circuit court invalidated two resolutions of the Town of Forest Heights that, collectively, annexed into the Town 737 acres of land. All of the annexed lands were tax-exempt, and the owners of the lands were not required to provide their consents to the annexation. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) the twenty-five percent property owner consent requirement of LG 4-403(b)(2) does not encompass tax-exempt property owners; and (2) the language contained within the annexation plan was appropriately conditioned so as to avoid any usurpation of law enforcement jurisdiction over properties owned and managed by MNCPPC. View "Town of Forest Heights v. Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the circuit court affirming the decision of the Mayor and Common Council of Westminster (the Council), holding that substantial evidence in the record as a whole supported the Council’s denial of Petitioner’s application to amend the General Development Plan for Wakefield Valley (the Wakefield Valley GDP) to permit construction of fifty-three homes on “Parcel W” of a former golf course (the Application). After the Council voted to deny the Application, the Council adopted an ordinance denying the Application and incorporating an attached written decision. The circuit court affirmed the Council’s decision as set forth in the ordinance. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the Council’s decision denying the Application was a quasi-judicial act, not a legislative act, as was therefore subject to judicial review; (2) the Council did not err in considering the zonal classification of Parcel W in evaluating the Application; and (3) there was substantial evidence in the record to support the Council’s decision. View "WV DIA Westminster, LLC v. Mayor & Common Council of Westminster" on Justia Law

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The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Prince George’s County and the City of College Park, a municipality within the County, did not alter the City’s authority to enforce zoning violations within the limits of its municipality and permitted the City to require additional permits under the City building code. Petitioners, a tenant to certain property and the property’s owners, challenged citations issued by the City after Petitioners failed to obtain required City permits. Petitioners sought a declaration that the terms of the MOU restricted the City from requiring City non-residential occupancy or building permits where occupants previously obtained building permits from the County. The circuit court concluded that the MOU restricted the City from requiring additional permits under the City building code where use and occupancy permits had previously been granted by the County. The Court of Special Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the MOU only controlled power that the County delegated to the City and did not limit the City’s power to enact additional ordinances. View "Precision Small Engines, Inc. v. City College Park" on Justia Law

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A county may rescind its approval of a municipality’s rezoning of annexed land. The Town Commissioners of Queenstown annexed farm land adjacent to Queenstown in Queen Anne’s County and rezoned the annexed land for purposes of a planned development. The Town sought the County’s approval of the new zoning classification. The outgoing Board of County Commissioners approved the Town’s rezoning. After the November 2014 election, the newly installed Board of County Commissioners rescinded that approval. Waterman and the Town then brought this action against the County. The circuit court issued a declaratory judgment that the resolution rescinding approval had “no legal force and effect.” The Court of Special Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the County had authority to rescind the initial resolution approving the rezoning. View "Waterman Family Ltd. Partnership v. Boomer" on Justia Law

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This lawsuit was the result of the amendments to an area master plan to prohibit surface mining in certain mineral-rich areas of the county. The amendments were made by County Council of Prince George’s County, sitting as district council. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether two mining companies and a mining trade organization (collectively, Respondents) could seek judicial review of the master plan and whether the master plan amendments were preempted by state law. The Court of Appeals held (1) Respondents can seek judicial review of the master plan under Md. Code Ann. Land Use 22-407; (2) the trial court erred in upholding the district council’s adoption of the master plan amendments as procedurally proper; but (3) the amendments are severable, and the remaining portions of the master plan still stand. View "County Council of Prince George's County v. Chaney Enterprises Ltd." on Justia Law

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In 1993, the Anne Arundel county board of appeals (Board) granted Petitioner special exceptions and variances to construct and landfill and sand and gravel operations. Three extensions of time were necessary to obtain that permit. In 2011, the permit and a county building permit to construct the landfill were granted. That same year, the Board, by a vote of 2-2, denied Petitioner’s request for a further two-year extension. The circuit court vacated the Board’s decision and remanded. The court of special appeals modified the decision of the circuit court, disagreeing on the standard the Board was to apply. The Court of Appeals vacated the rulings of the lower courts with instructions to remand to the Board for further proceedings, holding that the ultimate conclusions of the denying members were arbitrary and capricious, but that did not require an outright reversal of the Board’s rejection. View "National Waste Managers, Inc. v. Forks of the Patuxent Improvement Ass’n" on Justia Law

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Baltimore County zoning regulations provide for a planned unit development (PUD) approval process that is partly legislative and partly quasi-judicial or adjudicative. Whalen Properties, LLC, the developer of a proposed PUD, submitted a PUD application to First District Councilman Thomas Quirk of Baltimore County. Thereafter, Stephen Whalen, the owner and principal of Whalen Properties, distributed $8,500 of the company’s money to several individuals with instructions that they deposit the sums into their own accounts and to donate those amounts to Councilman Quirk’s campaign committee. An adjacent landowner challenged the subsequent approval of the PUD, alleging that the appearance of impropriety generated by the donations invalidated the approval process. The circuit court and Court of Special Appeals affirmed the decision. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) because the introduction and passage of a resolution is a legislative action, the legislative intent is subject to limited judicial review; and (2) an alleged appearance of impropriety generated by illegal campaign contributions does not negate the presumption of validity of the legislative act. View "Kenwood Gardens Condos., Inc. v. Whalen Props., LLC" on Justia Law

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The Maryland Critical Area law establishes a cooperative program with local jurisdictions to ensure that land near Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic coastal bays has special protection against development that might cause environmental damage. Although the law allows a property owner to seek a variance, it places the burden of proof on the applicant to demonstrate that the applicant would suffer an “unwarranted hardship” without the variance and that granting the variance will not have an adverse environmental impact. Schwalbach sought a variance from a Worcester County ordinance that limits piers to 100 feet in length, in order to access navigable water from his waterfront property in a community where piers and boating are common. Schwalbach obtained necessary federal, state, and local environmental agency approvals. The County Board of Zoning Appeals granted the variance. The Circuit Court, the Court of Special Appeals, and the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the approval.Schwalbach was not required to show that he would be denied all reasonable and significant use of his land without the variance, but rather that he would be denied a reasonable and significant use throughout the entire property. There was sufficient evidence to conclude that Schwalbach satisfied that standard and the standard that there be no adverse environmental impact from granting the variance. View "Assateague Coastal Trust v. Schwalbach" on Justia Law