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Precision Small Engines, Inc. v. City of College Park

Court of Appeals of Maryland

February 21, 2018

PRECISION SMALL ENGINES, INC. ET AL.
v.
CITY OF COLLEGE PARK ET AL.

          Argued: December 5, 2017

         Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAL14-32376

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.

          OPINION

          Hotten, J.

          We must consider the interplay between the enumerated zoning authority granted to Prince George's County ("the County"), the extent of the authority of the City of College Park ("the City") as a municipality within the County, and the rights and authorities reflected in an agreement entered into between the County and the City pursuant to Md. Code (Repl. Vol. 2012) § 22-119 of the Land Use Article ("Land Use"). The parties to this appeal are Precision Small Engines ("PSE"), a tenant to the property at 9651 Baltimore Avenue, College Park, and the owners of the property, Gregory Hnarakis and Thomas Stokes (collectively "Petitioners"), and the County and the City (collectively "Respondents"). The parties contest the County's zoning authority, outlined in Prince George's County Code §§ 27-253, 4-352(a), and the City's authority under Maryland Code (Repl. Vol. 2013) 5-211 of the Local Government Article ("Local Gov't"). We must determine whether the Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") between the County and the City altered the City's authority to enforce zoning violations within the limits of its municipality. For reasons to be explained, we hold that the MOU does not alter the City's authority, and that the MOU permitted the City to require additional permits under the City Building Code. Accordingly, we shall affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.

         Background

         Petitioners initially challenged citations issued by the City in the District Court of Maryland sitting in Prince George's County. PSE and other occupants of shared property received citations after failing to obtain required City permits. PSE challenged its fines, arguing that portions of the MOU prohibited the City from issuing any occupancy and building permits, including permits authorized under the City Code. On this basis, some, but not all, of the fines were dismissed. Hnarakis employed the same argument, but it was not successful.

         On December 1, 2014, while the disputes were still pending before the District Court for Prince George's County, Petitioners filed an action for declaratory judgment in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County. Petitioners sought a declaration that the terms of the MOU restricted the City from requiring City non-residential occupancy or building permits where occupants previously obtained use and occupancy, or building permits, from the County. Respondents filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on December 4, 2015. On February 18, 2016, the circuit court held a hearing.

         In a Memorandum Opinion and Order, issued May 24, 2016, the circuit court decided that the MOU restricted the City from requiring owners or occupants of non-residential properties within the municipal corporate limits to obtain non-residential occupancy permits issued by the City, where such persons have obtained County use and occupancy permits. The court also determined that the MOU restricted the City from requiring owners or occupants of non-residential property within the municipal corporate limits to obtain building, grading, or other construction permits from the City, where persons have obtained permits from the Department of Permits, Inspection, and Enforcement. The circuit court opined that the City's and County's permits virtually serve the same purpose, and the only difference between the permits is that the City permit must be renewed annually after re-inspection, whereas the County permit is issued upon changes in property use or occupancy. However, the circuit court held that the City could exercise its police powers for the purpose of health, safety, and welfare, including annual inspections, and any other purpose not specifically addressed in the Order.

         Respondents noted a timely appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. The Court of Special Appeals issued a reported opinion on June 6, 2017, reversing the circuit court's decision. The court reasoned that the plain language of the MOU clearly dictated that the City did not give up any of its power to adopt and enforce its own building code, or its own health, safety, and welfare regulations. City of Coll. Park v. Precision Small Engines, 233 Md.App. 74, 87, 161 A.3d 728, 735, cert. granted sub nom. Precision Small Engines v. Coll. Park, 456 Md. 57, 170 A.3d 292 (2017). The intermediate appellate court reasoned that the circuit court's ruling deviated from the MOU's plain language, and projected an interpretation outside of the parties' intention. Id.

         Petitioners now request that this Court determine whether the Court of Special Appeals erred in declaring that the MOU does not restrict the authority of the City to issue non-residential building and occupancy permits.[1] We determine that the Court of Special Appeals properly concluded that the MOU does not limit the City's power to enact additional ordinances. The City is granted enactment power pursuant to several statutes, including Local Gov't § 5-211. Under these statutes, the City may enact regulations that control the issuance of permits. The MOU only controls power that the County delegated to the City, not power that originates from other sources of law.

         Sources of Zoning Authority

         Under Land Use § 22-104, the County Council for Prince George's County, sitting as the District Council, may adopt and amend the County's zoning laws. A zoning law under Land Use § 14-101(q)(1)(2) is defined as, "the legislative implementation of regulations for zoning by a local jurisdiction [and] includes a zoning ordinance, zoning regulation, zoning code, and any similar legislative action to implement zoning controls in a local jurisdiction." Pursuant to that power, the County adopted Subtitle 27 of the Prince George's County Code, which regulates all zoning matters, including use and occupancy permits. County Code § 27-253 provides that:

(a) None of the following activities shall take place unless a use and occupancy permit certifying compliance with this Subtitle has been issued for the activity by the Building Inspector:
(1) Use of a building, structure, or land;
(2) Conversion of a building, structure, or land from one use to another use;
(3) Medical practitioner's, insurance sales, and real estate sales offices;
(4) Conversion of a one-family detached dwelling to include additional dwelling units (by Special Exception).
(b) Use and occupancy permits shall not be required for the following:
(1) One-family dwelling (other than a new one-family dwelling) used for ...

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