Court of Appeals Limits Standing For Rezoning Ordinance Challenges

An April 22 Daily Record article discussed the holdings in a pair of recent Maryland Court of Appeals decisions (Anne Arundel County v. Bell and Anne Arundel County v. Harwood Civic Association) that limit the standing of persons seeking to challenge a local government’s rezoning ordinance. The Court held that in order to have standing to challenge a rezoning ordinance, a property owner must be a taxpayer who has suffered a financial loss or increased taxes due to the new ordinance. From the article:

The Court of Appeals, in its 4-3 decision, blocked a challenge from property owners to an Anne Arundel County ordinance converting open fields to mixed-use residential zoning. The court said the owners’ concerns about traffic and environmental decay were insufficient to give them standing to sue.

In its ruling, the high court declined to extend to zoning-ordinance challenges the standing it has permitted property owners opposing administrative land-use decisions made by county zoning boards. The court noted that land-use decisions are executive functions, whereas ordinances are legislative acts subject to stricter standing requirements for property owners.

Granting “property-owner standing” in rezoning-ordinance cases would enable people to sue counties based on claims of being aggrieved by the new law because their property is near the rezoned district, the court said Tuesday.

“Hypothetically, thousands of plaintiffs with the benefit of property-owner standing could have standing to challenge comprehensive zoning legislation,” Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote for the majority.

“This would be unworkable entirely. This court has been reticent in the extreme to construe standing doctrines so broadly…. “

Arundel County also expressed satisfaction with the outcome in the article:

Prior decisions have held that property owners have standing to sue if their property was rezoned via ordinance, leaving unanswered whether everyone in the neighborhood could also sue, said attorney Gregory J. Swain, of the Anne Arundel County Office of Law.

The high court’s decision “gives clarity” to the standing issue and “provides guideline for the future,” Swain said Wednesday.

“The real danger was having just lots of these lawsuits,” he added. “We are happy that the court tightened it up the way they did.”