A year of wrangling over development rights ended last week when the Maryland Court of Appeals threw out three cases brought by developers against the Carroll County commissioners.
The court ruled that a yearlong moratorium on residential development had expired by the time the appeal was to have been argued.
The commissioners imposed a deferral on residential construction to give the county time to create stricter growth laws. Since the moratorium ended June 10, the county staff has followed new growth and environmental laws in processing subdivision plans.
Those regulations allow the county to weigh the impact of a new development on schools, roads, emergency services and public utilities.
"We are open for business, and we are processing permits under new rules and regulations," said Kimberly A. Millender, county attorney. "The court ruled the appeals moot, and this is definitely over."
The appeals court consolidated three cases brought by John W. Pfaff Builders Inc., Forty West Builders Inc. and Kohler Development Corp., which together had more than 300 lots waiting for development. The builders opposed the moratorium.
The developers had all received certificates from the county before the freeze was initiated. The certificates stated that the proposed projects would not strain school, road and water capacities, and could thus move forward.
The moratorium interrupted about 90 projects - involving about 1,700 lots - in various stages of development, including those that had received certificates from the county.
Attorneys for the developers argued in court that these certificates are legal contracts and must be respected. The county, however, contended that the certificates offer timelines for the projects, not guarantees that the developments will move forward.
The appeals court did not rule on the question of whether the certificates are contracts.
During the moratorium, Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway ruled that those developers had contracts with the county that would allow them to proceed with their projects.
When Galloway ordered the county to continue processing subdivision plans for the three builders, the county appealed his ruling to the higher court.
By the time the appeals court was to consider the issue, the moratorium had expired and was not renewed.
"The issue we took the cases to decide is therefore moot and there is no indication that it is likely to recur in any kind of similar factual setting, as the basis for the moratorium has, itself, been dealt with by subsequent county legislation," the court ruling said.
John Maguire, a Westminster attorney who represented the developers, said yesterday, "There is not much point in pursuing this issue further."
Maguire said he is pleased that the judge dismissed the county's appeal, but he added that his clients remain concerned about possible future denials of their projects.
The new regulations allow the county to withhold approval from projects that do not meet adequate-facilities standards for schools, roads, emergency services and public utilities.