A panel of local government representatives voiced their objections over proposed legislation that would alter the requirements for standing in comprehensive zoning cases during a briefing by the House Environment and Transportation Committee’s Land Use and Ethics Subcommittee on October 18. “Standing” is the legal right to bring and maintain a lawsuit.
The briefing focused on failed legislation (HB 243/SB 166) during the 2016 Session. As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo opposed the legislation. The legislation was introduced in response to a recent Maryland Court of Appeals holding, Anne Arundel County, Maryland v. Steve Bell (filed April 21, 2015).
At the briefing, MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp presented an overview of the two types of standing at issue (taxpayer and property owner) and asserted that the Bell decision properly clarified which form of standing applied to comprehensive rezoning. From MACo’s testimony:
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 actions (such as piecemeal rezonings, special exceptions, and nonconforming uses). …
HB 243 would override the well-reasoned arguments of the Bell decision and instead require property owner standing for comprehensive rezoning decisions. This would create serious legal and policy consequences….
Knapp also briefly noted the potential consequences should the legislation pass, including: (1) an increase in plaintiffs and rezoning litigation; (2) a slowing or stopping of the comprehensive rezoning process; (3) additional challenges to Smart Growth-friendly redevelopment and revitalization projects; (4) whether challenges under the legislation were severable; and (5) forcing property owners that support a rezoning into litigation to protect their own property rights.
Also testifying in opposition to the proposed standing legislation were Maryland Municipal League, homebuilder, and commercial builder representatives. Representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 1,000 Friends of Maryland, and several plaintiff law firms testified in support of the legislation.