Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 29, 2017

MD Court of Special Appeals Holds Rezoning Ordinance and Its Rescission were Public Local Laws Rather than Public General Laws

Waterman, owner of approximately 140 acres of land in Queen Anne’s County, commonly referred to as the Wheatlands Farm property, filed a petition with the Town of Queenstown seeking to have the property annexed into the town. The Town Commissioners voted to annex the property, and adopted an ordinance rezoning the Wheatlands Farm property from Countryside to Planned Regional Commercial, which permitted commercial and high density uses. The effective date of that ordinance was dependent upon a waiver by the County Commissioners of the existing zoning density pursuant to Md. Code, § 4–416(b) of the Local Government Article (“LG”).  The County Commissioners passed Resolution 14–31, which granted the express approval needed to allow for rezoning to a classification that was substantially different and at a higher density, and allowed development consistent with the “Planned Regional Commercial” classification without having to wait the five-year period referred to in LG § 4–416. Soon thereafter, the County Commissioners adopted Resolution 14–33, which rescinded the express approval that previously had been granted. Waterman and the Town Commissioners filed suit, and the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Waterman and the Town Commissioners, concluding that the County Commissioners “had no authority to repeal and rescind Resolution 14–31.”
On appeal, the court concluded that Resolutions 14–31 and 14–33 were public local laws adopted pursuant to Article XI–F, Section 6, and subject to rescission. Here, both resolutions applied to the Wheatlands Farm property that was located within “a single subdivision of the state.” As such, any decision regarding the zoning density limits applicable to Wheatlands Farm had no consequence on any land outside of Queen Anne’s County, would be a matter of purely local importance, and would not involve a State mandated program requiring uniformity. Furthermore, the court found that there was nothing that restricts the power to rescind a local law adopted pursuant to the power granted to the County by Article XI–F, Section 6 of the State Constitution. Even absent an express provision in LG § 4–416 permitting the rescission of a local resolution, the court noted that the County had the inherent power to do so. Lastly, as there was no assertion in the instant case 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 judgments of the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County were reversed.
Boomer v Waterman Family Limited Partnership, 155 A. 3d 901 (MD 3/2/2017)

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