The decision protects rural land near Chesapeake College at Routes 50 and 213 in Queen Anne's County from being consumed by the equivalent of several Walmarts. The action also carries statewide significance, because the court treated the county's comprehensive plan, which outlines the community's long-vision for growth, as legally binding. This suggests that such local land-use plans are not mere advisory documents that developers can trample or ignore, as often has happened in the past across Maryland and the U.S.
“We hope that all Maryland jurisdictions are paying attention to this case,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. “This is the first test of legislation passed in 2009 designed to ensure that local jurisdictions’ zoning decisions are consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan. That is important because comprehensive plans protect the quality of life and rural fabric of local communities.”
In November 2011, the Queen Anne County’s Commissioners voted 3-2 to rezone land for almost four million square feet of commercial and office development. The projects would have dramatically changed the character of the Eastern Shore farming community, worsened traffic congestion, and increased pollution into local streams and rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay.
Fourteen local residents filed a lawsuit against the zoning changes, alleging that they were invalid because they did not follow the county’s long-term land-use plan. The residents were joined by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, The Mid-Shore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage, and Queen Anne’s Conservation Association.
“This decision is a significant victory both for good land use planning State-wide, and for the protection of agriculture in Queen Anne’s County against harmful development,” said Jay Falstad, Executive Director of Queen Anne’s Conservation Association.
For more, read the full decision here.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation