WASHINGTON – A federal judge found that Charles County was within its rights when it rezoned a tract of land on the Potomac River to allow 43 homes instead of the originally approved 252.
U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow ruled Monday that Charles County did not violate an agreement it made with the developers of Potomac Cliffs when it rezoned the land on the Potomac River to comply with the Smart Growth restrictions.
Potomac Cliffs is part of a 3.36-square-mile tract of land known as Cliffton in southern Charles County that has been eyed for development since the late 1960s, according to court documents. But disputes between the county and various developers over the construction and maintenance of the area’s water and sewerage facilities have stalled development.
In 1989, the county and the developer reached an agreement to allow development of Potomac Cliffs if adequate water and sewer facilities were in place.
But those facilities were never constructed and, in 1997, the county reduced the density in the area, partly because of the lack of adequate water and sewer.
The developers argued that the rezoning violated the 1989 agreement. They said it was the county’s responsibility, not theirs, to provide adequate sewerage and water facilities for the development.
The county disagreed, saying it was a private responsibility to provide water and sewer by 1994. Since the developer failed to provide adequate facilities by that time, the county claimed it was discharged from any contractual obligation it may have had.
County attorneys argued that holding the county to the 1989 agreement would have frozen zoning classifications indefinitely. That, in turn, would have amounted to “illegal contract zoning,” by tying the county’s hands in future zoning matters.
The defendants — John Bollech, Kenneth Haapala, Daniel Meisinger and Dennis Winson — appealed to the county board of appeals and the county circuit court, losing both times. Chasanow also threw out their appeal to the federal courts Monday and sided with the county.
She found there was no enforceable contract in place at the time that it rezoned the Potomac Cliffs parcel.
“It is clear from the plain language and the context of the agreement that the parties set out a plan for the development to occur within a fixed period of time and that the developers were responsible for upgrading the existing sewer and water facilities so that they would be sufficient for the new development,” she wrote.