Town coun­cil post­pones de­ci­sion on CIRI prop­erty

Mem­bers to re­con­vene with le­gal coun­sel

Maryland Independent - - News - By CHAR­LIE WRIGHT cwright@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @Char­lieIndyNews

De­spite lengthy de­lib­er­a­tions, the Indian Head Town Coun­cil de­cided to de­lay its rul­ing on the CIRI prop­erty amend­ment at a pub­lic hear­ing on Thurs­day, choos­ing to con­sult le­gal coun­sel and re­con­vene at a later date.

Steve Scott of Scott Law Group, along with David Cook­sey and Cathy Fler­lage of Soltesz engi­neer­ing firm, spoke to the coun­cil on be­half of Cook In­let Re­gion Inc. (CIRI), the ap­pli­cant in the pro­ceed­ings. An Alaska Na­tive cor­po­ra­tion, CIRI bought the par­cel at auc­tion in 1987 for $880,000 from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The com­pany is seek­ing to adjust the zon­ing clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the roughly 19acre plot of land.

The prop­erty is cur­rently split­zoned, with ap­prox­i­mately 7 acres zoned as open space (OS) and the rest zoned as Town Cen­ter Mixed-Use (TCMX). The pur­pose of OS zon­ing is to pro­tect land for en­vi­ron­men­tal rea­sons and also pre­serve it for pub­lic works pur­poses, like li­braries and golf cour­ses. The amend­ment would abol­ish the di­vided zon­ing and make the area en­tirely TCMX, al­low­ing CIRI own­ers to move for­ward with devel­op­ment plans for the prop­erty.

The Indian Head Plan­ning Com­mis­sion ap­proved the amend­ment in March af­ter a pub­lic hear­ing in Fe­bru­ary. The town coun­cil held a sim­i­lar meeting to re­ceive con­cerns from the com­mu­nity, but hes­i­tated to make a de­ci­sion when their lawyer failed to ar­rive. Indian Head Mayor Bran­don Paulin moved to keep the record open and the coun­cil will de­liver its rul­ing at a spe­cial meeting sched­uled for June 21 at the Vil­lage Green Pav­il­ion.

“It’s just eas­ier for us to con­sult with le­gal,” said Coun­cil­man Cur­tis Smith. “While he’s there, we can make sure all pro­ce­dures are be­ing fol­lowed and make sure we are do­ing ev­ery­thing cor­rectly go­ing for­ward.”

Be­fore the coun­cil moved to put off its res­o­lu­tion, CIRI’s team pre­sented its ar­gu­ment for the amend­ment. They ex­plained that the de­scrip­tion of the prop­erty doesn’t fit with the typ­i­cal qual­i­fi­ca­tions of an OS-zoned area, namely that the land is pri­vately owned and in­tended for hous­ing.

“There’s a need to make cer­tain as­sump­tions re­gard­ing the own­er­ship and the high­est and best use of a par­cel of land, in our rea­son­able in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the OS zone,” Scott said. “The OS zone is in­tended for pub­lic or quasi-pub­lic open space or recre­ational, or some­thing open or pre­served for the ben­e­fit of the pub­lic in some way ... This is a pri­vately owned prop­erty, it’s in an area des­ig­nated by the com­pre­hen­sive land use plan for high-den­sity devel­op­ment.”

This in­con­sis­tency led Scott to con­clude an er­ror was made in zon­ing the prop­erty. He ex­plained the OS zon­ing did not ex­ist when the CIRI group pur­chased the land and had to have been added at some point dur­ing their own­er­ship. While CIRI may be re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing up with changes made to the zon­ing of their prop­erty, Scott rea­soned it shouldn’t af­fect the le­git­i­macy of their claim.

“Whether or not CIRI even knew about it does not negate the ar­gu­ment of a mis­take,” Scott said. “We still be­lieve if a mis­take ex­isted or a mis­take oc­curred, that gives the land owner the le­gal right to seek a re­zon­ing.”

CIRI plans to build 164 town­house units on the prop­erty, which is across from Indian Head El­e­men­tary School and Char­lie Wright Park. Cook­sey de­scribed the area us­ing four con­cept maps and added the group would lose 40 to 45 units if the zon­ing clas­si­fi­ca­tion is not changed.

The town coun­cil opened the floor to com­mu­nity in­put af­ter Scott and Cook­sey’s pre­sen­ta­tion, but con­ver­sa­tion strayed from the zon­ing is­sue. Smith pointed out the meeting was strictly for dis­cus­sion of the zon­ing is­sue, not what would be built on the prop­erty, yet con­cerned cit­i­zens fo­cused on traf­fic and hous­ing con­cerns.

“The state­ment was made that Dr. An­drews Way would be the only way that this sup­posed new com­mu­nity would be able to get in and out of their com­mu­nity,” said Jac­que­line McClary of the Vil­lages of Po­tomac at Indian Head. “Dr. An­drews Way is the only way that we get out, which means there would be even more traf­fic in that area for the res­i­dents in that com­mu­nity.”

McClary went on to say in­creased traf­fic could be a safety is­sue given that many chil­dren use the nearby bas­ket­ball courts and play­ground. Cook­sey had pre­vi­ously men­tioned a traf­fic study of the area would be done with the re­sults dic­tat­ing how the group moved for­ward. Smith as­sured McClary that the town would ex­plore speed bumps and other strate­gies to con­trol traf­fic in the area.

Even though the devel­op­ment plans have al­ready been ap­proved by the plan­ning com­mis­sion, one res­i­dent re­quested an ad­just­ment to the pro­posal.

“I would just ask that the town re­con­sider their town­houses and think about the se­niors,” said Bar­bara Prasser of Indian Head. “The se­niors have no place to go.”

Prasser in­sisted there isn’t vi­able hous­ing for the el­derly in Indian Head, prompt­ing older cit­i­zens to move to La Plata.

“Cer­tainly that will be dis­cussed through­out the de­sign por­tion,” Paulin said. “Tonight is just about the zon­ing.”

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