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Willow Grove Citizens Association v. County Council of Prince George's County

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

December 20, 2017

WILLOW GROVE CITIZENS ASSOCIATION, et al.
v.
COUNTY COUNCIL OF PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND

         Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAL16-07496

          Berger, Beachley, Kenney, James A., III (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          BERGER, J.

         This case is an appeal from a judgment entered on judicial review of a zoning decision in Prince George's County. Appellees Presidential Care, LLC ("Presidential") and Stoddard Baptist Home, Inc. ("Stoddard") applied for a special exception with the Prince George's County Office of Zoning.[1] Upon the recommendation of the Zoning Hearing Examiner ("Examiner"), the Prince George's County Council ("County Council"), sitting as the District Council, voted to approve the special exception. Various persons of record filed a petition for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, which affirmed. Willow Grove Citizens Association, Inc. and other persons of record (collectively, "Willow Grove") subsequently appealed the judgment of the circuit court.

         On appeal, Willow Grove presents five questions for our review, which we have rephrased and consolidated as follows:

Whether the County Council's decision to grant the application for the special exception was legally correct in light of the fact that
a. Presidential had, at the time of filing, forfeited its right to do business in Maryland;
b. Stoddard was, at the time of filing, an unregistered foreign corporation;
c. People's Zoning Counsel did not recuse himself despite his involvement in the sale of the subject property to Presidential.

         For the reasons explained herein, we shall affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         The land at the heart of this dispute is a 7.91 acre property located at 3911 Lottsford Vista Road in Bowie, Maryland ("the Property"). Under the Largo-Lottsford Master Plan and Sectional Map Amendment (Zoning Ordinance No. 3-2016), the Property is zoned Rural Residential. The prior owner, William Youngblood ("Youngblood"), obtained a special exception pursuant to Zoning Ordinance 7-2001 to build a 160-person child day care center, a 40-person adult day care center, and a 72-person congregate living facility. These zoning entitlements were never developed. On August 27, 2001, Youngblood sold the Property to Presidential, a limited liability company organized in Maryland in 2001. Youngblood's attorney at the time of the sale was Stan Brown ("Brown"). Brown conducted the settlement and was engaged in some of the contract work associated with the Property.

         On November 1, 2012, Presidential's right to do business in Maryland and use its name was forfeited. Presidential's rights remained forfeited as of February 21, 2014, when it applied for a special exception to operate a 15-person adult day care facility and a 63-unit assisted living facility. The application was accepted by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The applicant was listed as "Presidential Care, LLC, by Stoddard Baptist Home, Inc., Managing Member." Stoddard, a foreign corporation organized in the District of Columbia, is the sole member of Presidential. At the time of filing, Stoddard was not registered to do business in Maryland.

         The Examiner conducted a public hearing to consider the application for a special exception. Brown participated in this hearing as People's Zoning Counsel.[2] Brown disclosed his prior involvement in the sale of the Property and asked, on the record, whether anyone present objected to his participation in the proceedings. There were no objections. The Examiner approved the application for a special exception on October 15, 2014.

         The Examiner's decision was appealed to the County Council.[3] After hearing oral arguments, the County Council remanded the matter for the Examiner to determine whether Presidential and Stoddard were in good standing with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation ("SDAT").

         On May 4, 2015, Presidential's rights were reinstated. On June 2, 2015, Stoddard registered with SDAT and became qualified as a corporation in Maryland. The Examiner conducted a second public hearing on the application for a special exception in June of 2015. At the second hearing, Presidential and Stoddard provided certificates of good standing from SDAT. Thereafter, the Examiner conditionally recommended approval of the application for a special exception.

         Willow Grove and other persons of record appealed to the County Council. After hearing oral arguments, the County Council found that "Presidential was legally authorized to engage in the activity of filing an application for a special exception concerning real or personal property, " and that Presidential's forfeiture did not impair the validity of its application. The County Council also found that Stoddard, in applying for a special exception, was not doing business in Maryland. As a result, the County Council approved the ...


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