The Mountain Road Defenders, a group of Fallston property owners, have won their legal fight to block T. C. Simons Inc. from parking construction equipment on property zoned for agricultural use along Route 152.
In an opinion filed Oct. 11 and received in Harford Circuit Court last week, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned a Circuit Court decision favoring the Joppa-based contractor.
A three-judge appellate panel of John J. Bishop Jr., John J. Garrity and Theodore G. Bloom said the Circuit Court erred in reviewing the decision of the County Council, which was serving as Harford's Board of Appeals in the zoning dispute.
Maryland's second-highest court ruled that the Circuit Court could not substitute its judgment for the expertise of the Harford zoning examiner, who refused to grant the contractor exceptions to county zoning regulations.
The exceptions Simons sought would have allowed the contractor to use four parcels to park vehicles, store heavy equipment and lease space to others for that purpose; operate a sawmill; begin a retail mulching operation by grinding trees and stumps; develop wetlands; open a retail stone products operation; and extract and process minerals on the land.
The Mountain Road Defenders contended that the zoning changes could devalue their properties and cause possible contamination of wells, noise and traffic congestion.
Simons' applications for the zoning exceptions were denied at five separate hearings between Oct. 29, 1990, and Jan. 14, 1991.
The zoning examiner ruled on March 19, 1991, that one of the parcels, which already contained a parking lot, could continue to be used for that purpose.
Simons lost its appeal on the matter to the council, sitting as the Board of Zoning Appeals, on Sept. 17, 1991, and appealed in Circuit Court.
On March 30, 1993, the court remanded the case to the zoning board; in essence, the court said the council should grant certain exceptions with specific restrictions on how the contractor could use the land.
The Mountain Road Defenders appealed that decision to the Court of Special Appeals.
In forming its opinion, the three-judge panel said it first had to decide whether the matter was "fairly debatable."
The appellate panel said it considered whether "reasonable persons [could] have reached different conclusions, if presented the facts heard by the council sitting as the Board of Zoning Appeals."
The panel ruled that the contractor did not sufficiently prove his case, saying that Simons' experts had no facts to support their conclusions. They could not, for example, say whether the land would be used to park 100 or 1,000 vehicles.
Thus, the three-judge panel concluded the council's decision was reasonable and the Circuit Court should not have "second-guessed" the decision, which was based mainly on the zoning examiner's 56-page written report.