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Growth freeze setbacks multiply


A Carroll County Circuit Court judge has ruled in favor of two more developers in legal challenges to the county's growth freeze, adding to a growing list of subdivision plans the county would be forced to process pending appeals.

In one case, Judge Michael M. Galloway granted last week a stay, or a delay of a decision by the county Board of Zoning Appeals. The board had upheld the county's action to halt an 11-lot subdivision plan from moving forward.

The stay forces the county to resume processing development plans for Marabrooke Farm in Sykesville, said attorney Clark Shaffer, who represents the developer, Neuman Homes Development.

But County Attorney Kimberly Millender said the county has asked the court for clarification regarding Galloway's ruling because it wasn't clear whether the order required processing of plans for Marabrooke.

The request for a judicial review of an administrative decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals represents a different legal mechanism from previous challenges to the county's one-year freeze on residential development. That freeze expires in June.

In three earlier cases, developers asked Galloway for preliminary injunctions. And in each case, the judge granted the requests, ordering the county to resume processing those development plans.

Last week, a fourth case was added to the list when Galloway ordered the county to push forward John W. Pfaff Builders' project called Windy Hills, just north of Westminster,

The county plans to file an appeal of the Pfaff decision, as it did with the other three cases, Millender said.

In every case, the developer had received a certificate from the county before the freeze was initiated stating that its proposed project would not strain school, road and water capacities and could thus move forward.

The freeze interrupted about 90 projects - totaling 1,700 lots - in various stages of development, including those that had received certificates from the county.

Lawyers for the developers have argued in court documents and during hearings that these certificates are legal contracts that cannot be broken. The county, however, has contended that the certificates offer timelines for the projects but no guarantees that the projects will move forward.

"Most of these people have had significant reliance" on the certificates, Shaffer said.

The county's growth freeze halted subdivision projects that were subject to the county's adequate public facilities law. The law is designed to keep residential growth from overwhelming schools, roads, utilities and emergency services such as fire and police protection.

The commissioners imposed the freeze to give the county's planning department time to revamp growth laws. The county has scheduled public hearings during the next several weeks on proposed changes to the county's growth laws, including the adequate public facilities ordinance.

Galloway's rulings on all five cases do not represent his final word. He is expected to hear full arguments in all the cases before handing down final decisions. But with the freeze set to expire in four months, the rulings, in effect, give the developers the right to push ahead with their plans.

There are at least a dozen such cases pending in Carroll County Circuit Court.

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