“Standing” Bill A Major Concern For Comprehensive Zoning

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp was joined by a panel of county and municipal officials to oppose legislation (HB 243) that would alter standing requirements for comprehensive zoning, planning, and “land use actions” during the House Environment and Transportation Committee hearing on February 9, 2016. Delegate Stephen Lafferty introduced the bill.

Standing is the legal right to bring and maintain a lawsuit. Knapp and the panel testified that the bill would: (1) increase plaintiffs and litigation; (2) slow or stop comprehensive zoning; (3) put redevelopment and revitalization projects at risk; (4) open up comprehensive plans additional litigation; (5) potentially allow a single comprehensive zoning challenge to hold all the zoning reclassifications invalid; and (6) force property owners not challenging the comprehensive zoning into the litigation to protect their own property rights. From the MACo testimony:

The bill is allegedly trying to “fix” a recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision, Anne Arundel County, Maryland v. Steve Bell, No. 29, September Term, 2014. However, MACo believes that the Bell decision properly held that taxpayer standing is the appropriate standing requirement for comprehensive rezoning cases and that HB 243 would detrimentally alter how standing works in land use decisions.  …

In the Bell decision, the Court correctly concluded from previous decisions that taxpayer standing should apply to primarily legislative land use actions (such as comprehensive zoning), while property owner standing should apply to administrative, executive, or quasi-judicial land use action (such as piecemeal rezonings, special exceptions, and nonconforming uses).

The result [of HB 243] would upend local comprehensive planning efforts, disrupt and potentially significantly delay the comprehensive rezoning process, and imperil Smart Growth-friendly redevelopment and revitalization projects.


At the hearing, Lafferty testified that he was offering an amendment to remove references to comprehensive plans and “land use actions” so that the bill solely focused on comprehensive rezoning.
Knapp was joined by Baltimore City Government Relations Deputy Director Nicholas Blendy, Maryland Municipal League (MML) Government Relations Director Candace Donoho, Gaithersburg City Attorney Lynn Board, and MML Municipal Attorneys Association President Elissa Levan.
Representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Common Cause of Maryland, 1000 Friends of Maryland, Patuxent Riverkeepers, Mason Stream Conservancy, and various citizens testified in support of HB 243. The Maryland Homebuilders Association, NAIOP (commercial real estate development association), and various land use attorneys testified in opposition to the bill.
An identical cross-filed bill, SB 303, was heard on February 2 in the Senate. That bill was sponsored by Senator Joan Carter Conway. The same local government representatives who testified on HB 243 also testified on that bill, with the addition of Queen Anne’s County Community and Environmental Planning Chief Helen Spinelli.
Useful Links
MACo Testimony on HB 243 / SB 166
Committee Hearing on HB 243 / SB 166
For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.