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Falls Road Community Ass'n Inc. v. Baltimore County Maryland

Court of Appeals of Maryland

February 25, 2014

Falls Road Community Ass'n, Inc., et Al.
Baltimore County Maryland, et Al.

Circuit Court for Baltimore County Case No. C088443

Argued: January 8, 2013

Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, [*] Bell, JJ.


McDonald, J.

This case arises from a controversy about the paving of a parking lot. The parking lot is on park land leased to a restaurant and subject to various land use restrictions. Paving of the property was restricted by a formal agreement between the restaurant and a local community organization – a restriction that was incorporated in administrative zoning orders. But, despite the agreement and the orders, the lot was paved to the surprise and chagrin of some neighbors.[1] Litigation ensued.

Resolution of the case is complicated by the fact that Respondent Baltimore County appears in three somewhat conflicting guises – as landlord of the property in question (Department of Recreation and Parks), as code enforcer (Department of Permits, Approvals, and Inspections), and as final administrative adjudicator of disputes arising under local land use laws (County Board of Appeals).[2] As administrative adjudicator, it forbade the paving of the parking lot. As landlord, it directed its tenant, Respondent Oregon, LLC ("Oregon"), to pave the parking lot. And, as code enforcer, it decided not to take action in response to the apparent violation of the final administrative order issued by the Board of Appeals.

A local community organization, Petitioner Falls Road Community Association ("Community Association"), and two individual neighbors brought suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County seeking declaratory and mandamus relief against the County and Oregon.[3] The Circuit Court ruled against the Community Association, granting summary judgment as to the mandamus claims and, following a bench trial, declining to issue declaratory relief despite concluding that the paving had violated the administrative order. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed those judgments, although on a different ground than the Circuit Court – that the Community Association had failed to exhaust administrative remedies – but went on to discuss the merits of the Circuit Court rulings.

We disagree with the Court of Special Appeals, both as to whether further resort to the administrative process was required and as to its critique of the Circuit Court rulings. But the bottom line is that we largely affirm its judgment and remand for further proceedings in the trial court concerning a surviving aspect of the case.


In the Hunt Valley area of Baltimore County lies Oregon Ridge Park, a largely undeveloped woodland area covering approximately 1, 200 acres and owned by Baltimore County. Along the edge of the park, at the corner of Shawan Road and Beaver Dam Road, is a 2.63 acre parcel (the "Property") leased by the County to Oregon. Oregon currently operates a restaurant known as the Oregon Grille in a historic building on the site. The relationship between Oregon and the County, as both Oregon's landlord and land use regulator, has developed over a number of years.

The 1985 Lease

Oregon leased the Property from the County under a 25-year lease that began in 1985.[4]Under that lease, Oregon agreed that, among other things, it would "fully comply with all Federal and State laws, County ordinances, and regulations of public authority ...." In addition, the County reserved "the right and duty at all times, to exercise full governmental control and regulations with respect to all matters connected with the [l]ease." The lease permitted the County to cancel the arrangement if Oregon violated any of its terms or conditions.

The 1994 Zoning Petitions

In March 1994, the County, as owner of the Property, filed three petitions with the Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner in connection with Oregon's planned use of the Property for a restaurant:

(1)a Petition for Special Hearing to determine whether the County was exempt from the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations and alternatively to approve conversion of the existing building on the Property to a restaurant;
(2)a Petition for Special Exception seeking approval to convert the existing building on the Property to a restaurant; and
(3)a Petition for Variance to allow 44 parking spaces in lieu of the 92 spaces otherwise required for such a business under the BCZR (the existing parking lot had fewer spaces than required under the zoning regulations for a restaurant of the proposed size).

The petitions were filed pursuant to §500.7 of the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations("BCZR").[5]

The Deputy Zoning Commissioner conducted a hearing at which a representative of the Community Association, among others, testified in opposition to the proposal.[6] On June 28, 1994, the Deputy Zoning Commissioner issued an opinion and order that allowed the conversion of the existing building on the Property into a restaurant, but set conditions on that use and affirmed the applicability of the BCZR. In particular, the Deputy Zoning Commissioner denied the Petition for Special Hearing insofar as it sought an exemption from the BCZR; he concluded that the Property was subject to the BCZR because it was being leased to a private party for commercial purposes.[7] Second, he granted the Petition for Special Exception and approved the conversion of the existing building into a restaurant. Third, he granted the Petition for Variance allowing a smaller number of parking spaces than the zoning regulations would otherwise require for a restaurant of this size.

The use of the Property for a restaurant was made subject to a number of conditions, certain of which are relevant to this case. In particular, Oregon was prohibited from hosting parties, weddings, and other outdoor events on the Property. Oregon was permitted to have an outdoor seating area, but was not permitted to use this area for anything other than sit-down dining. Moreover, Oregon was not to have "tents, canopies, or other similar overhead covering[s]" on the patio or elsewhere, although "table umbrellas" would be permitted for outdoor diners.

Subsequently, Oregon requested that its petition for a variance from the required number of parking spaces be dismissed as it wished to expand the then-existing parking lot. It further proposed that the surface of the expanded parking lot be of "crushed stone or other permeable surface" so as to match the existing parking area. The Deputy Zoning Commissioner granted this request in an amended order issued on July 27, 1994.

The Restrictive Covenant, the Supplemental Lease, and the 1995 Board of Appeals Order

Oregon and various community organizations appealed the orders of the Deputy Zoning Commissioner to the Baltimore County Board of Appeals. While that appeal was pending, one of the community organizations, the Valleys Planning Council, and Oregon entered into a restrictive covenant agreement (the "Covenant") to resolve the community's concerns.[8] In exchange for the community's support for using the Property for a restaurant, Oregon agreed, among other things, that:

(1) the outdoor patio area could only be used for sit-down dining or for pre-dinner cocktails so long as patrons were subsequently served dinner;
(2) there would be no outdoor bars, live music, tents, or other similar overhead coverings in the outdoor dining area;
(3) the parking area at the restaurant would remain a non-paved surface such as crushed stone, "unless otherwise required by law"; and
(4) the parking area would be contained within the area leased from Baltimore County.

In November 1994, Oregon and the County, in its capacity as landlord, executed a Supplemental Lease Agreement amending and extending the 1985 lease. The amendments included the addition of a covenant by Oregon to comply with the June 28, 1994, zoning order[9] as well as certain restrictions contained in its Covenant with the Valleys Planning Council, including the limitations concerning the surface of the parking lot and the use of the patio listed in (1) and (3) above.

On February 8, 1995, the Board of Appeals revised and ratified the Deputy Zoning Commissioner's orders. The revised order included the addition of the above-listed restrictive terms from the Covenant. It also revised upward the permitted number of parking spaces to 94.

Oregon's Request to Modify the Zoning Conditions and the 2004 Board of Appeals Order

In April 2002, Oregon filed three petitions with the Zoning Commissioner, seeking a modification of the 1995 Board of Appeals order for the purpose, among other things, of paving the parking lot and allowing outdoor tented events on the Property.[10] Following a hearing, the Board of Appeals denied the requested modifications in an order dated July 2, 2004. The Board noted that Oregon had not appealed the 1995 Board of Appeals order and that, in the Board's view, "nothing has significantly changed" since the earlier order. The Board cited BCZR §1A03.4.B.3, which provides that "no more than 10% of any lot [so zoned] may be covered by impermeable surfaces (such as structures or pavement), " and opined that the paved portion of the parking lot already exceeded the 10 percent limitation. The Board concluded that Oregon was seeking a "second bite of the apple" in attempting to modify the conditions of the 1995 order in a new proceeding.

As a result of the 2004 Board of Appeals order, the prohibition against paving the parking lot remained in effect, as well as the limitations on the number of ...

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