Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Comp Lite Update

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, December 6, 2006

From the Baltimore Sun

I don’t think I am any closer to the Guinness that Wordbones and I have riding on the outcome of the lawsuit challenging Comp Lite brought by COPE.

The county filed with the Court to dismiss the suit.

In a formal response, the county claims the residents lack legal standing and waited too long to contest the legislation authorizing the Comp Lite process.

Lack legal standing.  This is just ridiculous.  I do agree that they probably waited too long.  I also don’t think Comp-Lite as it is written into the County Code is illegal.  So I disagree with COPE on that point.

The filing, submitted by the Office of Law, also says that the residents challenging Comp Lite “must have an actual, real and justiciable property interest susceptible of protection through litigation. … There is no presumption of special damages for adjoining, confronting or nearby owners.”

Like I said, ridiculous.  The County will not even argue the real heart of the complaint.  The County Council violated the County Code by including additional properties that should not have been included.  That is the crux of the case and the Court should here the case based on that complaint alone.

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12 Responses to “Comp Lite Update”

  1. wordbones said

    I can almost taste that milky froth at the top of a pint glass!

  2. tjh said

    The “standing” issue is a real problem in Maryland law. Community and environmental activists have been struggling with it for years and development interests (and primarily Republicans) in the General Assembly have refused to make changes.

  3. MBT said

    Tjh – Republicans refusing to make changes? Have you counted the numbers in the General Assembly for the last – oh let’s say 200 years? The GOP doesn’t even have cloture in the Senate, and when they got close 4 years ago, Mike Miller moved the number up to keep it out of reach. The GOP has not been able to sustain vetoes and the chairs of all the committees have absolute power and votes to either kill a bill or send it to the floor.

    To say that the GOP is blocking any changes in the law means either two things – your facts are not quite accurate or there are a whole lot of Democrats are voting for it too – with complicity from the committee chair.

  4. tomberkhouse said

    You tell ’em MBT. I always find it laughable how many people complain about this or that issue in Maryland, and then blame Republicans. Dems have controlled the state for decades. It’s the same issue I have with Howard County citizens complaining about “zoning issues”. The Dems have held the County Exec spot for 8 years and the majority on the Council for who knows how many years, so why didn’t they enact any changes if they had the power to do so?

  5. hocoterp said

    With regards to Tjh comments, I agree with what MBT says. It’s not the Republicans that are stopping change. If the Democrats in the General Assembly (esp. the leadership) want to get something passed, they can get it passed regardless of how Republicans or the Governor feel.

    The issue of standing is tricky though. It seems that if I own property and next to me or across the street a property is to be developed, I have to prove that the development will have a negative impact on my property. If the property across the street is to be low-income housing, it is very possible that it could negatively impact my property value. However, if the property across the street is to be luxury housing, then it is very possible that the new development could increase my property value. Is it right for me to be able to challenge the development because I can establish standing if one kind of development is built but not another?

    Additionally, if standing is to be narrowly granted, it would be almost impossible to challenge the decisions of the government regarding development and zoning. Remember COPE’s attempt to petition for a referendum? That was thrown out. If they are denied standing it ends the legal proceedings before the merit of the case can even be considered. The people are left with no means to seek a redress of grievances. I guess you could say in a Democracy the people can always vote the offending office-holders out, but that certainly wasn’t the case this time around.

  6. ” ….it would be almost impossible to challenge the decisions of the government regarding development and zoning…”

    isn’t that the point?

    “…It’s not the Republicans that are stopping change. If the Democrats in the General Assembly (esp. the leadership) want to get something passed, they can get it passed regardless of how Republicans or the Governor feel….”

    From my perspective – the notion that one faction or another “can” or “should” push any agenda “down the throats” of the other is patently “unAmerican”. Seems to me the process is working as intended when there is lack of action on divisive issues. Until one group or the other can persuade the opposition to its’ “side” — then inaction is preferable in most cases.

    At the end of the day— most folks (even politicians) are looking for the same thing, (fair and decent treatment, a better life for them and their families, life liberty and the pursuit of happiness) — in cases where we don’t agree on the best way to achieve those goals — each group needs to compromise and be reasonable …. or stick to their guns and be more persuasive.

    Cindy V.

  7. tjh said

    See:
    http://mlis.state.md.us/2006rs/billfile/sb0589.htm

    The bill failed because of procedural maneuvers by Sen. Pipkin and Kittleman in the final hours of the last session.

  8. tomberkhouse said

    CV,

    Your descriptionof how government should be (not taking action is ok) does not address the issue in this case. It’s one thing if the government action is not illegal (there is only a difference in opinion on what the policy or action should be). In this case, COMP LITE was partially illegal. There is no question about it. Read the Charter and it is perfectly clear that the process was violated. The perpetraitors (mispelling intended) of this action don’t want the court to review the case based on the merits of it, they want it thrown out on technicalities. I would think that an idealist like yourself would NOT like cases thrown out on technicalities, that you would much prefer to see inappropriate actions addressed and corrected. Anything short of that is not justice.

  9. bsflag2007 said

    Well, you have me pegged accurately as an idealist — and you are correct, I find the legal gamesmanship involving technicalities offensive in general — and when employed by the goverment, particularly egregious. (there is a certain amount of latitude I’d be willing to give defendents and private parties “playing the game” — but when it comes to “our” government spending “our” money against “us” – I have a different set of criteria.

    You are also correct – my comments are more general – the case of “comp lite” would fall outside of the “most of the time” category.

    In the “comp lite” case (as well as the Dyer v BOE case) the technicality at issue – “legal standing” goes beyond ludicrous —

    in fact, I like your “perpetraitor” moniker… any administration/government entity which authorizes the use of this particular technicality against its’ own citizens ought to be overthrown- impeached – not re-elected.

    Using our three pronged government system- the executive branch has failed — the judicial branch may still come through (as I understand it the county has asked the court to make this determination – but has the court dismissed yet?) – and if the judicial branch fails — the legislature can take another stab at it.

    Like in Dyer v. BOE — our BOE was behaving illegally (merits WERE decided by the Open Meetings Compliance Board- how conveniently Sandie French forgets) courts dismissed on the legal standing technicality – but that won’t be so easy next time since the legislature stepped up and tried to fix that little “problem”.

    It is a frustratingly and unsatisfyingly slow process — and even worse … the electorate sent the offender BACK to BOE.

    Where the goverment, legislature, judiciary continue to fail – the public needs to take action. I just wish we could still tar and feather…

    Cindy V.

  10. tomberkhouse said

    CV,

    I like your postings and comments more every day. At first I thought you were going to be a little bit out there, but I think I share a lot of your idealism (I refuse to compromise my principles for the sake of conformity). My old boss used to lament my stubborn idealism. To which I would say, “Aren’t we all supposed to be striving for the ideal, at all times, not just when money or personal gain is involved?” An injustice should not be ignored simply because it happened to someone else.

  11. Well, thank you. I don’t think I’m particularly “out there” —- I’m not really all that original or unique, either. I am constantly amazed at how much “thinking” people have in common (which is most people when they bother to think) – but am also constantly perplexed as to why their first reactions are to assume an argument and take a defensive posture.

    Of course, then there are the just plain obnoxious people – but they tend to marginalize themselves eventually….. like Mr. Bush.

    After his productive trip to the middle east last week – can we safely use the word “marginalized”?

    Cindy V.

  12. jen said

    I can not speak to why changes were not made at the State level to change “persons of standing” It is a pretty ridiculous contraint on the ability of citizens to seek a court appeal.

    I can speak to Tom’s comment about why zoning changes weren’t made at the local level. He is incorrect. Significant changes were in fact made to improve the process after the Fulton fiasco. As a result of the outcry related to Maple Lawn, the entire zoning process for comprehensive zoning and regulation amendments was changed from a zoning board process to a council process. From a quasi-judicial process to a legislative process. This was done under the leadership of the Democrats in an effort to give more voice to the people. To allow people to intereact via hearings and to appeal decisions via a referendum instead of judicial process.

    It was an ill-conceived change in the law that has failed to provide a better system and in fact has made zoning issues more- not less complicated for several reasons.

    A legislative process is subjective and does not rely on the objective legal standards required under the zoning board process.

    The zoning board was conceived and created to control all zoning in the county and allowing the council to do make zoning decisions defeats the primary purpose of having a zoning board and a zoning process.

    Enacting continuous regulation amendments via a legislative/hearing process has allowed developers to seek changes to the whole/countywide regs for their particular problem child. Instead of presenting evidence and legal standards for change in a judicial zoning board process, developers can lobby for change via a legislative process. It is significantly less expensive for attorneys to do it this way and significantly easier.

    Mounting an appeal by referendum has proven to be as ineffective as mounting a judicial appeal. Under both systems the citizens simply do not have the legal power or the vested interest they need to prevail. The people are mute under both systems.

    Zoning decisions should be based on predictable, objective evidence for or against change. It should never be tainted by ‘lobbying’. It should always be a clear and transparent process and a means of appeal should be straightforward and constructed to be based on the merits of the case, and not on the heft of the pocketbook.

    The change- a handful of years ago- is bad policy and it is leading to bad decisions which are complicating our regulations and which are creating rezonings that are arbitrary and capricious.

    I still think the zoning board should be filled by our elected council members… because I want my zoning board to be accountable…and the zoning process should be controlled by the zoning board and separate from our legislative process. We could revisit the idea of a people’s attorney/counsel to ensure that every zoning change is presented on its merits on a level playing field.

    Comp-Lite and Comp zoning were based on a flawed process- so flawed that the LWV sought immediate remedy so it could never happen again.

    But the people who signed the petitions and who are fighting the battle now in court will not prevail.

    I know there is a Stout awaiting the outcome of this case… but the case will not be determined on merit but on technicality. And I doubt you’ll get two Irishmen to ever agree on what the final ruling really means.

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