Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 10, 2015

MD Court of Special Appeals Holds that a Comprehensive Plan is not Required to Include Data to Support the Plan’s Goals, Policies and Recommendations

The Town of New Market is a municipal corporation located in Frederick County, which through its town council, adopted a comprehensive plan in 2005. In 2010, the Town amended the Plan by adding a water resources element and a municipal growth element (the “MGE”). The MGE proposed the annexation of various tracts of land adjacent to the present Town boundaries. The Annexation Areas were zoned for agricultural uses or other low-intensity uses by the Frederick County Zoning Ordinance. The MGE proposed that, upon annexation, the Town would change the zoning classifications to permit higher-density residential and mixed commercial and industrial uses. In 2011, the Town amended the Plan by adopting three documents: a 2011 Supplement, together with two addenda referred to as the “2011 Supplement Documents.” Overall, the Town’s Plan consisted of: the 2005 comprehensive plan document; the 2010 MGE; the 2010 Water Resources Element; and the 2011 Supplement Documents. In this appeal, addressed whether the Circuit Court for Frederick County, erred when it concluded that the comprehensive plan for the Town of New Market complies with state law. The appellants were Friends of Frederick County, a non-profit community advocacy association, the Audubon Society of Central Maryland, Inc., and individuals asserting either taxpayer or aggrieved party standing.

In support of their contention that “both the language and the purpose of the relevant statutory provisions compel the conclusion that the Plan was required to contain factually-based substantive determinations,” appellants relied primarily upon LU § 3–112,16 which sets out the matters that must be addressed in a comprehensive plan’s municipal growth element, and LU § 1–201,17 which articulates the visions that a local planning commission “shall implement through the comprehensive plan.” Section 3–112 requires a plan’s municipal growth element to “include” matters such as the “capacity of lands available for development, redevelopment, and in-fill”, and “the land area needed to satisfy demand for development at densities consistent with long-term development policy,” Section 1–201 requires commissions to “implement” the visions through the comprehensive plan. The court found this language fell far short of a requirement that a plan must contain data-based analyses to support the plans’ conclusions and recommendations. Furthermore, because the planning commission and the town council were acting, respectively, in quasi-legislative and legislative capacities, neither body was obligated to create a record to provide a basis for its decision. Accordingly, the court affirmed the holding that the Plan complied with every relevant standard contained in the Land Use Article.

Friends of Frederick County v Town of New Market, 2015 WL 5021387 (MD 8/25/2015)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2015/2140s12.pdf


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