Relay residents battling the proposed Hilltop Place townhouses won at least a temporary victory yesterday, in a state appeals court decision that could significantly limit the development's size.
The Court of Special Appeals reversed a decision allowing 198 townhouses on land once designated a Baltimore County park, saying the builder did not demand the release of his land once it became clear that the county wouldn't buy it.
Developer Carl Julio also failed to prove that the county acted in bad faith, the appellate court ruled. Thus, a 1991 rezoning of the property reducing the density was not illegal.
The ruling's immediate impact would be to limit the density to 132 townhouses on the 24-acre tract between U.S. 1 and Interstate 195, near Relay Elementary School, said Baltimore County People's Counsel Peter Max Zimmerman. This probably will eliminate the back-to-back configuration that the community found objectionable.
"We won. This is incredible," said an elated Louise VanDerBeek, former president of Relay Improvement Association Inc.
"We just plodded along," she said. "We felt we were really right. Seventy units will make a big difference."
Mr. Julio could not be reached for comment last night.
But Mr. Zimmerman, who argued the case to defend the rezoning, said he was sure the decision would be taken to the Court of Appeals.
In 1991, Mr. Julio applied to develop the property and gained some county approvals. But two months later, the county froze development on the property, while it tried to acquire the land as a park.
Amid the 18-month freeze, the county reduced the zoning of the land -- a move that limited the number of townhouses allowed on the property.
But state funding for parks dried up, and the county's $560,000 offer never came close to Mr. Julio's estimated $4 million to $8 million price.
In 1993, the county Board of Appeals sided with Mr. Julio, saying the county acted in bad faith and was negligent when it froze development of the property.
When a judge in county Circuit Court upheld the board's decision in December 1994, opponents of the project claimed that the decision could undermine the zoning authority of localities everywhere -- or at least force the county to comb through every property, looking for possible negligence by its officials, in the comprehensive rezoning process every four years.