Monday, January 6, 2014

Maryland Reclamation Associates v. Harford County case brief

Maryland Reclamation Associates v. Harford County case brief summary
994 A.2d 842 (2010)

Appellant property owner appealed two judgments of the Circuit Court for Harford County (Maryland), one  of which affirmed the Harford County Board of Appeals's denial of the owner's request for several variances and the other which affirmed the Harford County Board of Appeals's interpretation of various zoning provisions that were applicable to the owner.

The owner sought to construct and operate a rubble landfill on the property.

  • In February of 1990, Maryland Reclamation Associates (MRA) (P) purchased property located in Harford County (D). 
  • MRA wanted to use the land for a landfill. 
  • Before the purchase, the county had decided to include the property in its Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP), and the state had issued an environmental permit for a landfill at the site. 
  • The project’s inclusion in the SWMP was brought by a vote of four of seven council members: two had abstained due to inadequate information; one abstained because his son was the president of MRA. 
  • Hundreds attended the approval hearings that took place in November of 1989, in opposition to the rubble landfill. 
  • The county ultimately adopted a zoning amendment which imposed new conditions for rubble landfill sites and required use variances. 
  • MRA sued the city to compel it to allow the rubble landfill on the theory that MRA had a vested right to proceed with its plan. 
  • The trial court held that MRA did not have a vested right to construct the rubble landfill. 
  • MRA filed an appeal, invoking zoning estoppel by alleging that MRA had spent over one million dollars for the land purchase and engineering fees after relying on the city’s inclusion of the landfill site in its SWMP.

"In order to obtain a vested right in an existing zoning use that will be protected against a subsequent change in a zoning ordinance prohibiting that use, the owner must initially obtain a permit" and must make a substantial start in construction to commit the land to its permitted use before the zoning ordinance has been changed.

  • On appeal, the owner challenged various decisions which led to the denial of the necessary variances. 
  • Among other things the court of appeals held that the Board did not err in finding that granting the requested variances would be substantially detrimental to the adjacent property. 
  • Evidence showed that the landfill activities would be substantially detrimental to the historic church and graveyard that were next to the subject property. 
  • Furthermore, the community would be detrimentally affected, as an increase in air pollution was likely to result in worsening of asthma in children, cardio-respiratory difficulties in elderly persons, and increased truck traffic in areas where children played and boarded school buses. 
  • As for the second case, the court of appeals concluded that the county's right to enact and enforce zoning regulations was not preempted by the State statute governing landfills. 
  • The court also noted that the owner needed more than a state permit and site plan approval to have a vested right in an existing zoning use and neither equitable nor zoning estoppel applied.
The judgments of the trial court in both cases were affirmed.

See also: Maryland Reclamation Associates v. Hartford County full case

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