Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 8, 2018

MD Court of Special Appeals Finds District Council Exercised Appellate Jurisdiction When it Reviewed a Decision by the Planning Board Approving a Detailed Site Plan

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

 

FCW Justice, Inc. (“FCW”) was the owner of a 3.3acre parcel located on Lottsford Vista Road in Lanham, Maryland. In 2003, the prior owner of the property filed an application to subdivide a portion of the larger tract into two lots, identified as “Parcels B and C, Hanson-Palmer Industrial Park.” The Planning Board granted preliminary subdivision approval, subject to several conditions, including one that required the owner to submit a limited detailed site plan – addressing building design, signage, and screening – to the Board for its approval before a building permit is issued for Parcel C. The auto body shop was never constructed, and the detailed site plan approval expired three years later.  FCW purchased the property in 2012, and submitted a site plan application for a building that would house a car wash, a laundromat, and a restaurant. The Planning Board concluded that each of the specific items required by the Subdivision Resolution had been addressed, and approved the plan. No appeal of the decision of the Planning Board was filed by any party; however, the District Council exercised its authority to review the decision on its own motion. The District Council then adopted an order reversing and denying the decision of the Planning Board. The Circuit Court for Prince George’s County issued a well-reasoned opinion and order reversing the decision of the District Council and ordering the District Council to affirm the decision of the Planning Board.

 

At the outset, the court noted that detailed site plans, at least in the context of a plan required as a condition of the approval of a subdivision application in a Euclidean zoning district, pertained to matters such as building location and design, the design of parking lots, grading, landscaping, the location of sidewalks, streets, waste collection facilities, recreational facilities within a development, and the design of entry signs – and were therefore matters of purely local impact. As such, the court found that the Planning Board was invested with original jurisdiction over such plan reviews, subject to appellate review by the District Council.

 

The District Council next contended that LU § 25-210 explicitly authorized the District Council to: review a final decision of the Planning Board in a detailed site plan application; revoke the Planning Board’s authority to review detailed site plans in certain circumstances; and  delegate detailed site plan review responsibilities to the governing body of a municipality located within the RDA. The court rejected this contention, finding that LU § 25-210 was “unclear on its face as to the standard of review.” Additionally, the District Council’s revocation and delegation argument was rejected because the Council did not have the authority to revoke the Planning Board’s authority to act on detailed site plan applications where, as in this case, the requirement for a detailed site plan was imposed by the Planning Board as a condition of subdivision approval. Accordingly, the court held that the District Council exercised appellate jurisdiction over the Planning Board’s approval of FCW’s detailed site plan application, and could reverse a decision by the Board only if that decision was not authorized by law, is not supported by substantial evidence of record, or was arbitrary or capricious.

 

Lastly, the court found that a remand of the present case to the District Council for further deliberations would be “an exercise in futility,” as the Council would have no choice but to affirm the Board’s decision because it was unaffected by an error of law, was based upon substantial evidence, and was not otherwise arbitrary or capricious.

 

County Council of Prince George’s County v FCW Justice, Inc., 193 A.3d 241 (MD 9/5/2018)

 


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