State's highest court says lower courts erred in Columbia tower case

State's highest court says lower courts erred in Columbia tower case
The Plaza Residences would have been the tallest building in Columbia had it been built. (Submitted renerding)

For more than four years, a Columbia resident's appeal of a developer's plan to build a 22-story condominium tower in downtown Columbia has moved through various administrative and legal bodies without the case ever being heard on its merits.

And it probably never will be, after a Maryland Court of Appeals opinion filed Friday, Aug. 19, concluded that the 2007 complaint the developer filed in Howard County Circuit Court to get the resident's appeal dismissed based on lack of standing was premature since the Howard County Board of Appeals had not ruled on the standing issue.


The case should go back to the Board of Appeals, but it could be dismissed because the developer, Florida-based WCI Communities, has abandoned plans for the tower and put the property, at Little Patuxent Parkway and Wincopin Circle, up for sale.

"If and when this pending matter resurfaces before the Board of Appeals, the Board will have to determine how to proceed with this matter," deputy county solicitor Paul Johnson said in a statement.

WCI spokesman Connie Boyd confirmed that the property is still up for sale, but declined to comment on the case.

"We actually are exiting all of our holdings that we had outside of the state of Florida," she said, noting that the company emerged from bankruptcy in September 2009.

If the board were to take up the case again, it would have to abide by the new zoning regulations the County Council passed last year for downtown Columbia, which would limit any building constructed on the site to nine stories, said council member Mary Kay Sigaty, who represents the area.

"And ultimately that would make the previous case moot," she explained. "Now, the merits are gone because of the new zoning."

The issue dates back to 2005 when Renaissance Centro Columbia LLC, a subsidiary of WCI, submitted a site development plan to the Howard County Planning Board for approval. The plan was to construct a 22-story condominium tower with 160 residential units on top of 10,697 square feet of retail and a four-level, underground parking garage, according to the Court of Appeals opinion.

The planning board approved the site development plan, but the board's decision was appealed by four Columbia residents.

In 2007, the Board of Appeals unanimously ruled that three of the residents did not have legal standing to appeal the decision. But the board's four members were split on the standing of the fourth resident, Joel Broida, who lives in a condominium on Wincopin Circle next to the 1.46 acre plot where Renaissance wanted to build the tower.

The board — which was down a member because of illness — took a straw vote that showed two members believed Broida had standing and two did not, according to the court opinion. With the appointment of a fifth member scheduled for confirmation in February, the board decide to wait to rule on Broida's standing until after the new member joined and had time to review the audio recording of the proceedings.

But before the board ever reconvened, Renaissance filed a complaint in Circuit Court seeking a declaratory judgment that the straw vote should be counted as a final decision against Broida having standing and thus his appeal should be dismissed. After the Circuit Court sided with Renaissance, Broida appealed to Court of Special Appeals, which ruled he had standing and the case should be remanded back to the Board of Appeals.

Renaissance then appealed to the Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court. In its opinion, the Court of Appeals ruled that both the Circuit Court and Court of Special Appeals erred in reaching judgments because the Board of Appeals had never issued a final decision on Broida's standing.

"The declaratory judgment action should have been dismissed," the opinion reads.

Broida said he's "glad" that after sitting on the case for two years, the Court of Appeals finally issued an opinion.


"Now something has to be done to close the gap and get something that's reasonable on the property," Broida said. "I have heard that people are interested in buying the property, and that's great. I hope they put something tasteful in there, and not a 275-foot building."