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Ware v. People's Counsel for Baltimore County

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

July 2, 2015

LUCY WARE
v.
PEOPLE'S COUNSEL FOR BALTIMORE COUNTY, ET AL.

Eyler, Deborah S., Meredith, Leahy, JJ.

OPINION

EYLER, DEBORAH S., J.

Lucy Ware, the appellant, appeals from a judgment of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County affirming a decision of the Board of Appeals for Baltimore County ("the Board"). The Board's decision denied Ware's petitions for a special hearing and for zoning variances, both of which arose from her proposal to convert a single family home into a church. The appellees are the People's Counsel for Baltimore County ("People's Counsel") and 21 nearby residents who appeared before the Board as protestants and participated in the judicial review proceedings.[1] Ware presents four questions for review, which we have combined and rephrased as follows:

I. Did the Board err when it determined that the residential transition area regulations set forth in the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations ("BCZR") imposed conditions upon Ware's proposed change in use of the property?
II. If the Board correctly determined that the RTA regulations applied, was the Board's decision to deny Ware an exception from those regulations legally correct and supported by substantial evidence in the record?[2]

For the reasons to follow, we shall affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Ware was born and educated in Kenya, where she earned a degree in construction engineering. She has lived in the United States for over 20 years. In 1996, she established a non-denominational Christian church known as "Jesus Christ is the Answer Ministries" ("the Church"). For many years, the Church operated in rented space in a hotel at Cross Keys, in Baltimore City. In 2005, Ware became an ordained minister.

On August 31, 2012, Ware purchased a 2, 900 square-foot rancher style house on a 1.2 acre lot at 4512 Old Court Road, in Milford Mill ("the Property"). The Property was built in 1951 and is located in "Diana Acres, " a residential subdivision. It is zoned Density Residential ("DR") 3.5 (3.5 units permitted per acre), and is situated in the middle of a residential block. All the surrounding properties are single-family homes that are zoned DR 5.5 (5.5 units permitted per acre).

The Property was used as a single-family residence from the time it was built until Ware purchased it (61 years). Ware and her husband do not live at the Property; they live in a house on Liberty Road. Ware bought the Property in order to convert it from use as a single-family residence to use as a church, i.e., for the operation of the Church.

A. The Pertinent Zoning Regulations

Article 1B of the BCZR governs DR Zones in Baltimore County ("the County").[3] A church or any other building used for religious worship is a use "permitted as of right" in a DR zone. § 1B01.1.A.3. Even a permitted use in a DR zone must comply with section 1B01.1.B, however, which establishes "[d]welling-type and other supplementary use restrictions based on existing subdivision and development characteristics." One such restriction pertains to residential transition areas ("RTA"), which are buffer and screening areas. § 1B01.1.B.1. An RTA is a "one-hundred-foot area, including any public road or public right-of-way, extending from a D.R. zoned tract boundary into the site to be developed." § 1B01.1.B.1.a(1).

As relevant here, an RTA is "generated" if the property "to be developed is zoned D.R. and lies adjacent to land zoned . . . D.R.3.5 [or] D.R.5.5" containing a "single-family detached . . . dwelling within 150 feet of the tract boundary." § 1B01.1.B.1.b. A property owner may seek a variance from the RTA buffer requirements, but only if 1) the variance is recommended by certain County agencies or 2) there is a finding at a development review hearing, pursuant to Article 32, subtitle 4 of the County Code ("the Code"), that a modification to the RTA satisfies compatibility criteria and that a reduction in the RTA "will not adversely impact the residential community . . . adjacent to the property to be developed." § 1B01.1.B.1.c.

An RTA "use is any use" permitted as of right or by special exception in the zone or "[a]ny [business or industrial] parking area permitted under Section 409.8.B subject to the approval of a specific landscape plan for the buffer area which must meet the requirements for a Class A plan." § 1B01.1.B.1.d.

Section 1B01.1.B.1.e establishes the "[c]onditions" in an RTA. Any single-family detached, semi-detached, or duplex dwelling is permissible within an RTA. A "parking lot" must be "set back from the tract boundary 75 feet and provide a fifty-foot RTA buffer." § 1B01.1.B.1.e(2). The "buffer" must be an "upgraded, uncleared, landscaped buffer" and may not contain drainage areas, stormwater management ponds, or accessory structures, unless otherwise directed by the hearing officer upon the recommendation of the County. § 1B01.1.B.e(3).

There are "[e]xceptions to residential transition" that, if applicable, eliminate the "conditions" set forth above for a proposed site plan. § 1B01.1.B.1.g. Four of the exceptions pertain to churches. As relevant here, subsection (6) excepts a "new church or other building for religious worship, the site plan for which has been approved after a public hearing in accordance with Section 500.7" if there is a finding that "the proposed improvements are planned in such a way that compliance, to the extent possible with RTA use requirements, will be maintained and that said plan can otherwise be expected to be compatible with the character and general welfare of the surrounding residential premises."

B. The Proposed Changes to the Property

The house on the Property is situated on the eastern side of the lot, 28 feet from the property line of the neighboring property at its closest point. When Ware purchased the Property, it had a macadam driveway that ran from Old Court Road to the east of the house. The driveway emptied into a wide paved parking area that extended nearly to the eastern property line.

Ware replaced the roof of the house and added a deck. She did not make any other changes to the exterior of the house, and does not plan to do so. Significant to the issues in this case, Ware created a parking lot to the rear of the house by covering the grass in that area with gravel. To access this parking lot, cars must drive beyond the end of the macadam driveway along the eastern side of the house and turn left onto the gravel lot. Ware ...


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