Court upholds student-housing law nullification


WASHINGTON -- Prince George's County's attempt to regain the power to put strict controls on college students' off-campus housing failed in the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday.

In a brief order, the court, without comment, turned aside an appeal by the county to revive a 1989 ordinance that would have forced students to obey special rules on the use of private homes near college campuses.

Aimed primarily at the residential neighborhoods around the University of Maryland in College Park, the ordinance was based on the county's belief that "college students tend to create the type of disturbances that prevent a neighborhood from being a sanctuary."

Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals, struck down in a 4-3 vote the so-called "mini-dormitory" law as an unconstitutional form of discrimination against those who go to college.

The Supreme Court simply voted yesterday not to review that ruling, thus making it final. The fact that the ordinance had failed under state law might have been the factor that led the Supreme Court to decide not to review the case.

The Prince George's ordinance, adopted in late 1989 and put into effect the following summer, was aimed at any off-campus house that had been built for one, two or three families, but now was occupied by up to five college students.

The ordinance spelled out how much sleeping space had to be available for each student, limited parking to one space per student and barred any change in the appearance of the house.

Soon after the law went into effect, two homeowners, Donald P. Kirsch and Martha Kaye Dunn, challenged its constitutionality, along with two University of Maryland students, Stephanie Stockman and Daniel Cones. After lower state courts upheld the ordinance, the Maryland Court of Appeals nullified it.

Prince George's officials, in their unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court, argued that the state court decision would undermine the efforts of urbanized counties to manage population growth and to preserve "family-oriented neighborhoods."

The county insisted that it had no intention to discriminate against college students and had sought only to deal with the problems it expected from student-occupied housing.

In September, the Baltimore County Council approved two measures to deal with neighborhood complaints about off-campus housing around Towson State University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

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