Wheatlands debated in court; public hearing set
ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Court of Special Appeals heard oral arguments on Thursday, Nov. 3, on whether the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners had the legal right to reverse their decision on a five-year waiting period for rezoning the Wheatlands property in Queenstown.
The court hasn’t announced when it will make a decision on the matter.
Lawyers representing the Wheatlands’ owner argued in court that reversing the waiver on the property isn’t legal because the Queenstown government has control over the property since it was annexed into the town. But the lawyer representing the opposition says the county has the right to rescind its ordinances.
In a related development, the Queenstown Commissioners have scheduled a public hearing for next month concerning the growth allocation for the Wheatlands property. The hearing is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, at the commissioners’ office, 7013 Main St. in Queenstown.
Wheatlands is a 148-acre track of land on Route 301 across from the outlet shops and near the Route 301 and Route 50 split. It has been proposed for commercial development. Sometimes the property is referred to as the Waterman property since it is owned by the Waterman Family Limited Partnership.
The issue before the court goes back years. Queenstown annexed the property in 2014 and received a waiver from the sitting county commissioners on having to wait five years to change the land use and zoning. But the new county commissioners were elected who rescinded the waiver and Waterman took the matter to the Cir- cuit Court of Queen Anne’s County, which declared the decision by the new commissioners to be void and therefore, the waiver was upheld.
Several citizens and the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association appealed the Circuit Court’s decision to the Court of Special Appeals. Their lawyer asked that the court to reverse the Circuit Court’s decision, which would mean the waiver is void.
Before the three-judge panel in the Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis, Jesse Hammock, who represents the group who filed the appeal, cited the Maryland Constitution that “the county has an inherit authority to enact or repeal ordinances.”
The development of Wheatlands impacts those in Queen Anne’s County and meets the definition of local public law, he said.
Joe Stevens, attorney for Wheatlands, said that legally, if a property is annexed into a municipality, that municipality has control over planning and zoning of the property. Also, the law doesn’t say the county has the right to rescind its waiver.
The appeal before the Court of Special Appeals was filed by the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association and nearby residents Kathleen Boomer, Marie J. McNurlan, Paul A. McLurlan and Stacy L. Swartwood. Ed Modell, also a nearby resident to the property, filed a separate case, but it deals with the same issue.
The county commissioners have dropped out of the case.
At their meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 26, the town commissioners introduced an ordinance, which applies the growth allocation floating zone district to reclassify 59.70 acres of the critical area lands within the property from resource conservation area to intensely developed area.
The owner, the Waterman family, hopes to build a commercial development on the property. A concept plan has been submitted to the town, but it’s not the final plan.
The town’s Planning Commission on Wednesday, Oct. 5, unanimously recommended approval of the growth allocation for the Wheatlands property. In April 2016, the property owner submitted a petition for growth allocation to the Planning Commission.
The development could include retail space, commercial space, offices, and an assistant living facility. At maximum, 500,000 square feet of space can be developed.
The property was included in the 2010 Queenstown community plan as a planned annexation area with development anticipated.
This concept plan for the Wheatlands property was presented to the Queenstown town commissioners by the Waterman Family Limited Partnership to give an idea how the land might be used. It is not a final plan.