Court limits District Council’s planning role

by Rebecca Bennett

Prince George's County Council sitting as the District Council when looking at zoning matters.

The Prince George’s County Planning Board makes one decision, but the Prince George’s District Council decides differently.  Here in Hyattsville, we’re watching this dance go around with drive-throughs the City of Hyattsville would like to keep out of the transit district overlay zone.

Hyattsville City councilman Patrick Paschall told the Hyattsville Life & Times that the City appealed the decision by the District Council to approve a McDonald’s drive-through.  A recent decision by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals is likely to mean the City will be successful in its appeal and that the Chick-fil-A drive-through is a moot point.

The Maryland Association of Counties reported that the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled the District Council cannot just call up, reverse, or put their own conditions on decisions made by the Planning Board without good reason.  From May 30:

The May 28 decision in the case of County Council of Prince George’s County v. Zimmer Development Company found that the District Council does not have original jurisdiction over zoning issues and instead is limited to an appellate review of whether the Planning Board’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory, or illegal.

In the opinion issued by Judge J. Berger:

As such, the circuit court judge found that the District Council is prohibited from “second guessing” the Planning Board’s judgment, absent a showing that the Planning Board’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory, or illegal.

The court upheld the decision by the Circuit Court.  The opinion also detailed how the District Council amended the Prince George’s County Code (PGCC) to reflect assumed original jurisdiction by the Council.  The court said this contradicted Maryland state law:

Although the District Council has long assumed that it possesses original jurisdiction, a plain reading of the (Maryland Regional District Act) reflects that the Planning Board, not the District Council, is vested with original jurisdiction over zoning matters. The District Council simply cannot insert the magic words “original jurisdiction” and assume that such an amendment authorizes itself with original jurisdiction, especially in light of the provision’s conflict with the RDA.

And:

Moreover, the express provisions of the PGCC provide that: 1) the decision of the Planning Board is final if there is no appeal to the District Council; 2) the District Council is limited in its review to the facts and information established at the hearing before the Planning Board; and 3) the District Council is only authorized to affirm, reverse, or modify the decision of the Planning Board based on the record. Indeed, “the District Council does not have the power to create the cause, but, instead, hears the cause to correct and revise proceedings already instituted . . . .” before the Planning Board. Curtis Regency, supra, 121 Md. App. at 134.

 

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