In Valleys Planning Council, Inc. v. Boys’ School of St. Paul’s Parish, Inc. (unreported Court of Special Appeals, January 3, 2017), the Court of Special Appeals held that the Valleys Planning Council, Inc. and two neighbors, Douglas Carroll and Justin Batoff (collectively, the “Challengers”), did not have standing to challenge the decision of the Baltimore County Board of Appeals upholding the zoning commissioner’s approval of plans for the construction of a maintenance building by St. Paul’s School (“St. Paul’s”) because the Challengers did not live close enough.
The St. Paul’s campus is located on 125 acres northwest of Falls Road and Greenspring Valley Road in Baltimore County. It is in an RC2 zone, which permits private schools only by special exception. The property was subject to a special exception case in 1989, which was modified in 1993 and 2004.
In 2013, in order to construct an 8,000 square foot maintenance building on so-called “Tract A,” a 7.753 acre parcel which had been donated to the school in 2003, St. Paul’s requested an amendment to the special exception and site plan. The building was designed to look like a barn and was virtually hidden from the road because of the surrounding trees. The Board granted the amendment to the special exception and the site plan on July 16, 2014, and on August 14, 2014, the Challengers appealed to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. The circuit court held that St. Paul’s had waived its argument that the protestants did not have standing. However, the circuit court held for the school on the merits.
On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals stated that to have standing to appeal a land use decision, a person must have been a party to the proceeding before the Board and must be “aggrieved” by the decision. There is a low threshold for determining whether a person may be a party to an administrative proceeding – basically all someone needs to do is submit his or her name. Because the determination of whether a person has standing is a judicial decision, the court held that when St. Paul’s did not object to the appearances by the appellants at the Board hearing, it was not waiving its right to object to their participation in the court proceeding.
There is a higher threshold for determining whether a person is “aggrieved,” which is if that person is personally and specifically adversely affected in a way that is different from the public generally. There are three categories of people who may be aggrieved. A person is “prima facie aggrieved,” if the person lives very close, generally less than 1,000 feet away. A person who lives slightly farther away and is specially harmed by the decision is “almost prima facie aggrieved.” Finally there is a “poorly-defined category” for a person who is geographically removed but whose personal or property rights are adversely affected by a board action.
From Tract A, Mr. Carroll’s property is 2,327 feet (or .44 miles) and Mr. Batoff’s property is 1,873 feet (or .35 miles). Neither of these individuals can see the proposed maintenance building from their properties. Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals found that neither of them qualified as being “prima facie aggrieved” or “almost prima facie aggrieved.” Also, neither was able to demonstrate a “plus factor.” The court did not accept Mr. Batoff’s argument that he was entitled to claim special status because he often rode his horse on a neighbor’s property that was near Tract A, holding that standing is based on the location of one’s own property.
Similarly, the court found that the Valley Planning Council did not have standing. Its property was three miles from the maintenance building, and the court did not accept its argument that it was specially aggrieved because its job was to advocate for the valleys of northern Baltimore County.
Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals held that the circuit court erred in holding that St. Paul’s had waived its standing argument and in not granting St. Paul’s motion to dismiss. Essentially as an afterthought, the Court of Special Appeals said that the challenge to the Board decision would fail on the merits.
Judge Kehoe concurred with the majority opinion, but he disagreed with it on one point. The main opinion stated that the distance involved to determine whether a party had standing should not be affected by whether the property was rural. Judge Kehoe thought that the test to determine if a person was aggrieved should be different in a rural or semi-rural area than if it were in an urban setting.
For questions, please contact Ed Levin (410) 576-1900.