The Baltimore County Board of Appeals yesterday upheld the approval of a plan for the Magers Landing development in Monkton, the first disputed project under the county's new rural cluster development law.
The board ruled that the hearing officer who approved the plan in August based his decision on the evidence and didn't exceed his authority under the county's new development review regulations.
The board also rejected attempts by area residents and the Monkton Preservation Association to win another complete hearing on the development before the board. It ruled that the new regulations limit the scope of appeals.
Magers Landing is a proposal by Gaylord Brooks Realty Co. to build 15 luxury, single-family homes on a 110 acres along Monkton Road just west of the historic village in northern Baltimore County.
The 15 homes, to sell for about $400,000 each, will occupy only 25 acres just off the north side of the road. The rest of the 85-acre tract will be left undeveloped in a conservancy.
Opponents of the development challenged the new regulation that allows homes in land zoned RC-4 to be built in a cluster. They argued that clustering conflicts with the rural and agricultural character of the land that the regulation is designed to protect.
Hearing Officer Timothy M. Kotroco, the deputy county zoning commissioner, wrote in his opinion in August that changing the rural cluster development law is outside his jurisdiction.
Opponents also attacked the development review process, arguing that the overall plan should not be approved until all other county requirements were met, including tests to make sure that there is sufficient ground water and septic drainage for clustered development.
Mr. Kotroco rejected this approach, saying that he does not believe that "all checks and balances have to be completed by the time of the hearing on the development plan."
The appeals board opinion stated that all of the issues raised by the opponents were considered at great length by the hearing officer, including all conflicting testimony, "and it would be error for this board to consider substituting its judgment for that of the hearing officer."
J. Carroll Holzer, the attorney representing the protesters, called the board's reasoning "absurd."
Mr. Holzer noted that when an appeal is taken to the Circuit Court of a county appeals board decision, the only issue before the court is whether the board based its decision on the evidence before it and did not act in an arbitrary and capricious manner. The court does not hear the entire case again.
Mr. Holzer contended that the framers of the new development review regulations didn't want to limit the Board of Appeals to reviewing the hearing officer's decision, but actually wanted the board to hold a new hearing and independently evaluate the facts of the case.
Mr. Holzer said he will appeal the board's decision to Circuit Court.
Efforts to reach G. Scott Barhight, attorney for Gaylord Brooks, or Steve Smith, vice president for Gaylord Brooks, were unsuccessful.