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Court Upholds City Exception for Victory Housing

Appeals court rejects residents' claim that the city did not consider the project's impact.

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 , 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.

Theresa Defino January 07, 2012 at 05:33 AM
This is VERY good news. The city did what it was supposed to do--the Board of Appeals had an unprecedented series of public hearings on this project, for which I testified. I hope there are no further appeals. it's time for the NIMBYs to lose one.
Peter Mork January 07, 2012 at 12:30 PM
The Board of Appeals did give the project due consideration, which includes giving everyone a chance to be heard (whether or not that's unprecedented, I cannot say).
Theresa Defino January 07, 2012 at 04:04 PM
There were 2 1/2 days (meetings) of testimony. I believe that was unprecedented.
Brigitta Mullican January 08, 2012 at 02:47 AM
I am glad the courts gave this ruling. This is great news and I am happy to hear the City of Rockville, the Planning Commission and the Board of Appeals made the right decision. It is unfortunate that this project was held up so long because a few residents did not want this project to be built. A master plan is a guide and situations change after its approval. The plan can never take all situations in consideration. That is why there is an application processes where all facts are presented. This project will provide needed affordable housing and all the changes made during the processes shows the cooperation by the applicant.
Jeff Hawkins January 09, 2012 at 02:10 PM
This is good news for Rockville. Glad to see the courts gave the proper ruling.
Jim Coyle January 09, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Maybe the City can get Beall's Grant 2 back on the boards. We need both projects.
Jeff Hawkins January 09, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Jim: Considering the overall climate, I think it could be a good time to try again with BG2. Not sure where the current Council stands on this issue. BG2 would be a good idea.............AGAIN!
Piotr Gajewski January 09, 2012 at 10:08 PM
BG II would be a non-starter with the new Council (only Pierzchala and Moore are supportive). Also, the company that proposed it has, unfortunately, had to move in a different direction. I consider my inability to persuade my colleagues to get behind BG II the biggest failure of my tenure on the Council. As I was fond of saying: most cities would give a lot to have do-gooders in their community build affordable housing (so that the City does not have to take on this responsibility). All we had to do in Rockville (as the government) was to duck and get out of the way. And we could not even see our way clear to doing that.
Rob Saah Technology Enterprise's January 10, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Whats up Piotr? Hey I have a question was there any plans to fix up rockville city hall, when you served for the counsel?
Piotr Gajewski January 10, 2012 at 06:37 AM
Hey Rob, “Fixing up” City Hall would be an awkward use of funds as revenue is dwindling. However, as the police department eventually moves out of City Hall and into its new digs (perhaps as early as this summer), look for some rearranging of space at City Hall.
Rob Saah Technology Enterprise's January 11, 2012 at 11:32 PM
I think having the police at there new digs is a very cool idea, so now city hall can maximize the space! So Cool!!

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