Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 13, 2017

MD Court of Special Appeals Finds County had Authority to Rescind Zoning Classification Resolution

The Board of County Commissioners of Queen Anne’s County adopted Resolution 14-31, which approved Queenstown’s new zoning classification for the subject property, and allowed land uses at a substantially higher density from what previously had been allowed. Soon after, four new County Commissioners were sworn into office. The County Commissioners then adopted Resolution 14-33, which withdrew, rescinded, voided, and nullified Resolution 14-31. The Town Commissioners of Queenstown and the Waterman Family Limited Partnership, the owner of the subject property, filed a petition for judicial review and request for a writ of administrative mandamus. Waterman also filed a declaratory judgment action in the same court against the County Commissioners. The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of Waterman and the Town Commissioners and declared Resolution 14-33 “null, void and of no legal force and effect” on the ground that the County Commissioners lacked the “authority to repeal or rescind 14-31.”

On appeal, appellants argued that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Waterman and the Town Commissioners because, under Article XIF, Section 6 of the Maryland Constitution, the county had the legal authority to adopt Resolution 14-33. Specifically, they contended that both Resolutions were public local laws, not public general laws; as such, LG § 4-416 could not restrict Queen Anne’s County’s power under the Maryland Constitution to repeal a public local law like Resolution 14-31. The court found that Resolutions 14-31 and 14-33 were public local laws adopted pursuant to Article XI-F, Section 6, and subject to rescission since both Resolutions applied to the Wheatlands Farm property that was located within “a single subdivision of the state.” Despite appellees’ argument that the Town of Queenstown was a subdivision separate from the County, the court held the term “subdivision” referred to a county or Baltimore City: not a municipality or municipal corporation. As such, the court reasoned, any decision regarding the zoning density limits applicable to Wheatlands Farm would have no consequence on any land outside of Queen Anne’s County and would only be a matter of local concern. Additionally, the court noted that the instant case did not involve a State mandated program requiring uniformity.

Moreover, even absent an express provision in LG § 4-416 permitting the rescission of a local resolution, the court found the County had the inherent power to do so. Here, there was no assertion that any rights vested during the short time that elapsed between the adoption of Resolution 14-31 and the adoption of Resolution 14-33.  The judgment was reversed.

Boomer v Waterman Family Limited Partnership, 2017 WL 823712 (MD 2/2/2017)


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