Court KOs Wheat­lands de­ci­sion

Record Observer - - News - By CHRISTOPHER KERSEY

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.

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