Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 25, 2017

Fed. Dist. Court of MD Finds Landowner Did Not Have a Property Interest Created by the Recommendations of a Master Plan, Despite Reliance on Them

Plaintiffs Pulte Home Corporation and Shiloh Farm Investments, LLC spent $50 million on purchasing land and $12 million on TDRs from Montgomery farmers, with the hope of developing the property. Defendants Montgomery County, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission attempted to change the zoning of this area, impose new restrictions, and delay or deny water services to Plaintiffs’ property. Plaintiffs brought claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging violations of substantive and procedural due process, equal protection claims, and a takings claim.
At the outset, the court noted that the 1994 Master Plan and 2014 Amendment were integral to the Complaint, and it was therefore permissible for Defendants to attach them to the Motion for Judgment. On the merits of the Complaint, the court first found that plaintiffs failed to plead their due process claims since they did not possess a property interest. Here, Defendants were determined to have significant discretion to change zoning requirements for Plaintiffs’ property pursuant to the “Notice to Readers” section of the Master Plan, which stated in pertinent part, “[Area Master Plans] are intended to be updated and revised about every 10 years. It is recognized that circumstances will change following the adoption of a plan and that the specifics of a master plan may become less relevant over time.” Even after the Stage 4 development triggers were met, and notwithstanding Plaintiffs’ heavy reliance on the Master Plan, the court found Defendants maintained this broad discretion.
The court next found that even if the Plaintiffs possessed a valid property interest, the Defendants still acted rationally. Here, the 2014 Amendment stated that the “environmental analyses showed continued uncertainty about the ability to protect sensitive resources in Ten Mile Creek if full development occurred under the original Plan recommendations.” Additionally, the purpose of the Amendment was, “the creation of a complete, well-defined corridor town that provides jobs, homes, and commercial activities and the preservation of natural resources critical to the County’s well-being.”
 Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim also failed, as the court found that Plaintiff’s property had not been singled out in any way. The Amendment made a clear distinction between properties east and west of I-270 because the properties to the west had more sensitive watersheds. Lastly, Plaintiffs’ taking claim failed since they could still develop 93 out of the approximate 541 acres it owned. Thus, Plaintiffs had not been deprived of all economic benefit of the land. Moreover, for the same reasons the court denied the Plaintiffs’ due process claims, the court found the Plaintiffs’ could not have had a reasonable investment backed expectation. Accordingly, Defendants’ motion was granted.
Pulte Home Corporation and Shiloh Farm Investments, LLC v. Montgomery County, Maryland, 2017 WL 370`848  (D. MD 8/25/2017)

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