Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 13, 2014

MD Court of Special Appeals Finds the Enactment of Text Amendment Was Not a “Zoning Action” Subject To Statutory Judicial Review

This appeal arose from two actions for judicial review filed in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. In each case, William Pumphrey, on behalf of the Robert A. Pumphrey Funeral Home, and RAP Leasing Corporation (“RAP”) (collectively “Pumphrey”), challenged a text amendment to the City of Rockville’s zoning ordinance enacted by the Mayor and City Council of Rockville, which eliminated language permitting the expansion of off-street parking for certain nonconforming uses within Rockville. In the second action, Pumphrey challenged a decision of the City of Rockville Planning Commission, denying his final record plat application for the consolidation of two adjacent parcels into one lot. The circuit court granted Pumphrey’s motion to consolidate the two actions, and ruled that the text amendment to the zoning ordinance was invalid because the City acted arbitrarily and capriciously in enacting it. The circuit court further ruled that the Planning Commission’s decision to deny Pumphrey’s final record plat application was arbitrary, capricious, and unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.

As to the text amendment issue, the court first discussed what constitutes a “zoning action” under section 4.08(a) and its counterpart at section 2.09(a)(1)(ii), which governs Baltimore City. After reviewing these statutes the court held that the 2012 Text Amendment at issue in the instant appeal is not a zoning action subject to statutory judicial review and, for the same reasons, also is not subject to administrative mandamus review. In making this determination of whether a local zoning authority is acting in an adjudicative or legislative manner, the court found that it is dependent upon the nature of the particular act in which it is engaged. This determination is not based on whether the zoning decision adversely affects an individual piece of property but whether the decision itself is made on individual or general grounds. Here, this was found not to be the case because the first and second prongs of the Overpak test were not satisfied: the local legislative body did not “decide[ ] the use of a specific parcel or assemblage of parcels of land”, the 2012 Text Amendment was initiated by the Mayor and Council, not “by an individual application by a property owner or its representative”. The final decision on the plat application was also upheld because the Planning Commission decided to deny the final record plat on the basis that it failed to maintain, to the extent feasible, the average area and frontage of existing lots in the neighborhood. This finding was supported by substantial evidence in the record and was not legally erroneous, and was thus not scrutinized by the court.

For the aforementioned reasons, the Court of Special Appeals concluded that the circuit court erred by denying the City’s motion to dismiss the text amendment case and by reversing the decision of the Planning Commission in the plat case.

Mayor and Council of Rockville v Pumphrey, 2014 WL 3752100 (MD 7/31/2014)

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