Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 20, 2014

MD Court of Special Appeals Finds Planning Board had Substantial Evidence to Support Determination of What Constituted an “Existing Neighborhood”

Albert Arking along with a group of homeowners appealed the decision of the Montgomery County Planning Board, which approved a plan for resubdivision of an undeveloped lot to build two separate single-family homes. The Tamara Corporation submitted the plan to the Board, the appellants submitted letters opposing the resubdivision, and a public hearing was held; the board subsequently approved the plan by a 3-0 vote. The appellants submitted a petition for reconsideration, but the Board maintained its decision, but stated that it approved the plan because the lots were of the “same character as to street frontage, alignment, size, shape, width, area and suitability for residential use as to t other lots within the existing neighborhood.” The appellants eventually appealed to the circuit court where they sought to supplement the record, but the court denied their motion, and they appealed again.

Essentially, the appellants argued on appeal that the circuit court improperly denied their motion to supplement the record because without such additional information the court would not be able to determine if the Board exercised reasonable judgment in light of the facts. Thus, the appellants were not appealing whether the Board improperly denied their request to supplement the record, but whether the circuit court did in denying their motion. The court began by stating that it would adhere to the strict standard that a reviewing court is limited to the record as submitted, and not only could it not consider the appellants’ additional evidence, but the circuit court did not err in reaching the same determination. Thus, the court then analyzed whether the Board’s decision was unreasonable.

The statute governing the design of lots in a resubdivision stated, in relevant part, that the lots “shall be of the same character as to street frontage, alignment, size, shape, width, area and suitability for residential use as other lots within the existing block neighborhood or subdivision.” Appellants contended that the Board did not “appropriately select the ‘existing neighborhood’” for comparison sake, and that the lots were of the same character as the lots in the existing neighborhood. The court stated that because the Board took into consideration the abutting properties, the access points to and from the lots, and the consistency of the zoning within the boundary that its standard of determining an “existing neighborhood” was reasonable. The court also found the Board had substantial evidence to support its determination because it when there is “an honest dispute as to what comprises the neighborhood making the issue fairly debatable” the City’s acceptance of one definition cannot be questioned. Because the Board considered specific quantitative data, such as comparable lot size, shape of the lots, and their relationship to the lots surrounding them, the court found that the Board properly applied its standard to the proposed lots, and upheld the Board’s decision.

Arking v. Montgomery County Planning Bd., 215 Md. App. 589 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2014)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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