a. What could be wrong with an amendment to the Howard County zoning regulations regarding conditional uses that applied only to private academic schools with an adjacent exclusive use easement? How about if the zoning amendment required the Howard County Hearing Authority to “consider multiple adjacent exclusive pipestem easements as a single easement if their combined width does not exceed a total width of 75 feet”?
b. This question might provide a hint: to how many entities do you think the zoning amendment applied?
The answers to the questions, in reverse order, according to Howard Cty. v. McClain, No. 1166, Sept. Term 2020, 2022 WL 190660 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Jan. 21, 2022), are for b. one, Glenelg Country School (the School), and for a. special laws are unconstitutional under Maryland Constitution, Article III § 33.
The School wanted to build on the pipestem portion of lots over which it had an exclusive easement. The School submitted a conditional use petition to the Howard County Hearing Examiner in October 2016. The School did not seek written approval from the pipestem owners for its conditional use petition. The School filed for a zoning regulation amendment and it was passed by the Howard County Council.
Neighbors filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, challenging the constitutionality of the zoning amendment, against Howard County and the Howard County Council in the Circuit Court for Howard County. The County moved to dismiss, but the circuit court denied the motion.
An appeal to the Court of Special Appeals (CSA) followed and the CSA affirmed.
The CSA cited a 1910 decision of the Court of Appeals for the proposition that “[a] special law is one that relates to particular persons or things of a class, as distinguished from a general law which applies to all persons or things of a class.” The CSA analyzed whether the zoning amendment was a special law based on a six-part test established by the Court of Appeals, and the CSA found that all but one of the six factors weighed in favor of declaring the zoning amendment to be an illegal special law. As to the point on the other side of the scale, the CSA said, “The one factor suggesting otherwise — omission of [the School’s] name — is so easy to manipulate in this context that we discount it altogether.”
The CSA concluded that because the zoning amendment was enacted for the sole purpose of benefiting the School and has the practical effect of doing just that, it is an illegal special law.
For more information, contact Edward J. Levin.
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