Every few months the County Council sits down with the Frederick Alderman to have a pow wow. We love that our local governmental entities make it a point to sit down and communicate with one another. Two of your Yokels are city residents and we have to say that we are always so impressed with these ladies and gentlemen. The way they work together, know their issues, and just seem so much more functional than some other government body. The main item on the agenda was to discuss school construction. Tony wants the city to pony up for the schools that are being built within the city limits. Thankfully Aldermanic heroes O’Connor and Kuzemchak were not having any of that. As Mr. O’Connor pointed out, city residents already pay county taxes. AND, it’s the county’s job–not the city’s–to build schools. Why should city residents be expected to pay twice? And what kind of precedence would this set if local municipalities were expected to pay for school costs? Would that mean the incorporated areas of our county would be at an advantage when getting a new school? Or that they would be expected to come up with the money every time they needed a new school? Without any support, and all kinds of facts against him, Tony backtracked. There was some discussion of perhaps the city lending the county some money. Or perhaps the city paying for the extra large gym at Butterfly Ridge elementary. We’ll see if this comes up at their May meeting.
Last night our RALE friends went before the Board of Zoning Appeals in another chapter of their long fight against the MTC. Here’s Steve McKay’s report on what happened last night:
RALE was at the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) tonight.
I’d like to tell you that we were successful, but we weren’t. The bottom line is that the BZA, which believes that County Staff is ALWAYS assumed to have acted correctly, decided that we didn’t count, that we didn’t have “standing”, and so they ignored the merits of our argument. I’m going to break this down but let’s first review what this appeal was about.
At the end of last year, AFTER the Council ordered the Monrovia Town Center case to start over again, we learned that an “Outlot” was being processed, based on the old, invalidated BoCC approvals, to accommodate the planned water tower to service Landsdale and MTC. The Planning Commission approved the Outlot plat recordation, and we appealed that Planning Commission approval. The Zoning Administrator (but not really, because it was really Cathy Mitchell acting on behalf of this guy) denied our appeal, saying that it was a “ministerial action” and, therefore, not subject to appeal. We then appealed their denial – because it was wrong – and that’s why we were there tonight.
Now let’s talk about the “standing” issue. First of all, the County didn’t even base their denial on a belief that we lacked standing. They based it entirely on their “ministerial” argument. It was the developer that raised the standing issue, and the County basically said – “oh yeah, we think that, too!” So the developer and the County were working together tonight – again – arguing that we don’t count. Their argument was based on the fact that RALE doesn’t own property. This is true. The much-fabled “RALE warehouse” doesn’t exist. But there is another element of standing that they ignored. You see RALE has “personal interests” in this case, and that should have been sufficient to establish our standing. You see, RALE has invested countless hours, effort and a whole lot of money (donated by all of YOU) to this effort. That’s the basis of our personal interest, our standing … that they ignored.
In the end, the appeals commissioners ignored that element and asked their County attorney whether we had standing or not. Not surprisingly, we lost the argument. On this point, I want to personally thank the people that testified about how RALE represents the community on this issue. The appeals commissioners didn’t hear it or acknowledge the point – but I did, and I thank you.
But now let’s look at the merits of the issue because although the BZA may have ignored this argument, or claimed ignorance to the issues (which was bull___), the County CLEARLY violated the zoning ordinance in submitting the Outlot for approval. Let’s start with the appropriate section of the Ordinance, shown below. The language and its implications are very clear. If an Outlot plat is part of a subdivision in a preliminary plan, then it must go through the final plat process.
In the other image, the preliminary/site plan CLEARLY shows the Outlot as part of the plan. This preliminary/site plan is NOT completed. Is NOT signed. Thus, the Outlot has not completed the final plat process, as required by the ordinance. It never should have been approved!
So you might wonder how the County attorney – Cathy Mitchell – responded to this argument. Basically, she didn’t! First, she said we lied but didn’t explain how. Then she justified the whole thing on the basis that the “County needed this plot of land” for the water tower. Now this pissed me off. We didn’t lie – we just caught them in an error. The language in the ordinance is clear and unambiguous and they violated that language. So I don’t appreciate being called a liar. Next, saying that the “County needed the land” is NOT a justification for violating the zoning ordinance. That’s Bull!
Beyond these points – which should have been enough – our argument boils down to this fundamental premise. This Outlot approval was based on a zoning approval from the BoCC. That approval was based on a record that has now been TWICE invalidated – by the Circuit Court and by the Council. You can NOT have a valid approval based on an invalidated record. Effectively, that record no longer exists. The Council decided to create a new record. The Planning Commission will now go forward, ignoring that past history. The record is null and void and any approvals based on that record are now moot.
So the bottom line is that County staff and Planning Commission should have never even entertained this Outlot plat recordation because it is based on an invalidated, non-existent record. But even so, they still violated the zoning ordinance by approving it! I’ll be real clear now – we will appeal this because it is wrong. It’s more time and money, but sometimes, you have to do what’s right.
Best regards, Steve
If you would like to help RALE with their legal expenses they are holding a raffle. Click here for more info.