Court KOs Wheatlands decision
QUEENSTOWN — Plans to commercially develop the Wheatlands property in Queenstown have hit a delay after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals on March 2 reversed a lower court’s decision on the time frame the property can be developed.
With the new ruling, the property owner will have to wait until the fall of 2019 to commercially develop the 148-acre site on Route 50/Route 301 across from the outlet shops. But the ruling doesn’t stop the owner from planning in the meantime.
At issue before the appeals court was if the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners were legally within their power to rescind a previously granted waiver on developing the property.
The appeals court said yes, the county commissioners are legally allowed to change their position. In their decision, the appeals court judges based their decision on their interpretation of previous cases and the Maryland Constitution when it comes to “public local laws.”
Going back years, the issue stems from a complex and long court fight. Queenstown annexed the property three years ago and received a waiver from the county commissioners on having to wait five years to substantially change the land use. But the newly elected county commissioners rescinded the waiver, essentially banning development for years.
The Waterman Family Limited Partnership, which owns the property, took the matter to the Circuit Court of Queen Anne’s County, which declared the decision by the new commissioners to be void, therefore, upholding the waiver.
But the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association appealed the Circuit Court’s decision to the Court of Special Appeals.
On Thursday, March 2, that appeals court overturned the Circuit Court decision, saying the commissioners had the legal right to rescind their approval of the waiver.
Even through the waiver is now void, the Wheatlands property can still be developed, but the property owner must wait five years, starting on the date the site was annexed into Queenstown, which was in the fall of 2014.
Property owner Barry Waterman said the appeals court’s decision doesn’t matter in the long-run because the property can still be developed after the waiting period has passed.
“No question. The development of Wheatlands will go forward,” Waterman said.
When asked if he will appeal the latest court decision, he said he can’t answer that question right now, but he called such an appeal “a waste of money.”
The five-year waiting period, Waterman said, started when the property was annexed into Queenstown.
Jay Falstad, executive director of the Queen Anne’s Conser vation Association — one of the parties who sued for re-instating the waiting period — issued an email response to the appeals court’s decision.
“Queen Anne’s County citizens have successfully defended the authority of the County Commissioners to postpone the Wheatlands development as currently planned,” Falstad said.
Waterman and the Queenstown Town Commissioners brought a lawsuit attacking the county commissioners’ authority, but the Court of Special Appeals has decisively ruled in favor of the citizens and the county and against the developer and the town government, Falstad said.
“Queen Anne’s Conser vation Association (QACA) hopes that the developer and the town will now work with the citizens to make the Wheatlands development environmentally acceptable and compatible with the area,” he said.
Besides QACA, there were private citizens who joined as plaintiffs against the waiver as follows: nearby residents Kathleen Boomer, Marie J. McNurlan, Paul A. McLurlan and Stacy L. Swartwood.
Ed Modell, also a nearby resident, filed a separate case, but on the same issue. The appeals court ruled his case as “moot” since the court already ruled against Wheatlands.
The county commissioners have dropped out of the case.
The Waterman family hopes to build a commercial development on the property, which could include retail space, commercial space, offices, and an assistedliving facility. At maximum, 500,000 square feet of space can be developed.
Already, the site’s property owner has cleared some governmental hurdles to successfully commercially develop the property. Besides the annexation, the Queenstown commissioners approved the growth allocation for the Wheatlands property at their meeting on Jan. 11.
All three commissioners voted in favor of an ordinance that allows the growth allocation and permits the rezoning of 60 acres of the property from resource conservation area to intensely developed area.
The growth allocation approval now goes to the Critical Areas Commission.
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.