Click on the PDF at the right to read the Court of Special Appeals opinion.
The City of Rockville was within its right to grant a special exception to Victory Housing to build an 86-unit affordable housing development for seniors near City Hall, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled in an opinion released Thursday.
The appeals court affirmed an October 2010 decision by the Montgomery County Circuit Court that upheld the city’s zoning exception.
Twelve Rockville residents had appealed the lower court’s decision.
Residents said that the development, proposed by the nonprofit housing development arm of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, went against the city’s master plan. They argued that they were not given ample opportunity to oppose the project, The Gazette reported in 2010.
In its opinion, the appeals court rejected the residents’ argument that the development was not consistent with the city’s master plan, which calls for affordable housing “scattered … throughout the City and within individual developments containing MPDUs [moderately priced dwelling units].”
The court also rejected the residents’ argument that the city’s Board of Appeals, which on Jan. 9, 2010 upheld approval of the exception, lacked sufficient evidence “to conclude that the project would not change the character of the neighborhood.”
The board considered land use patterns, zoning, whether other similar properties were available for the development and “the Board’s own gatekeeper ability” to approve or reject exceptions for “similar future uses,” wrote Judge James R. Eyler.
Furthermore, Eyler wrote, “The Board could conclude that the proposal was consistent with the Master Plan as both senior housing and multi-family dwellings are permissible uses for the site.”
The city argued that the project is exempt from the requirement that it not change the neighborhood's character because of the need for affordable housing. The city also argued that the development would not “adversely affect the master plan.” Instead, the city argued, the project would provide a transition between the city and county government buildings in Town Center and residential districts to the south and west.
The appeals court found that the city considered the development as a buffer between the business and residential districts and agreed with the Circuit Court opinion “that the focus of the relevant master plan provision is on the need for affordable housing, not its precise location.” The court also found that the city adequately considered the project’s impact on infrastructure, including public and private services and transportation.
The court also rejected the residents’ argument that the city violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.
City planners had argued that the project met the necessary requirements to be granted a special exception.
The city’s Planning Commission unanimously approved the exception on Aug. 12, 2009 and unanimously approved plans for the project on Oct. 27, 2010, The Gazette reported.
Victory Housing hoped to break ground on the project last winter, but the city opted to withhold building permits while the legal appeal was still pending.
An exception was needed to build the housing project because the 4-acre site on county land was zoned for county use, The Gazette reported. The site is bordered by Fleet Street, Maryland Avenue, Monroe Street and the Courthouse Walk development.
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly quoted a portion of the court opinion. The article should have quoted Judge Eyler as saying that “housing and multi-family dwellings are permissible uses for the site.” This version corrects the typo in the eighth paragraph.