Hayfields, Inc. v. Valleys Planning Council, Inc.

Decision Date01 September 1997
Docket NumberNo. 1118,1118
Citation716 A.2d 311,122 Md.App. 616
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

G. Scott Barhight (Julie D. Wright and Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, L.L.P., on the brief), Towson, for appellant.

George A. Nilson (Brett Ingerman and Piper & Marbury, L.L.P., on the brief), Baltimore, for appellees.

John C. Murphy, Baltimore, for the Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities, Inc., the Nat. Trust for Historic Preservation and the Baltimore County Historical Trust, Inc., amici curiae.

Paul W. Edmondson, Gen. Counsel, and Laura S. Nelson, Asst. Gen. Counsel, Nat. Trust for Historic Preservation Washington, DC, for Nat. Trust for Historic Preservation, amicus curiae.

Argued before MURPHY, C.J., SALMON, J., and THURMAN H. RHODES, Judge (Specially Assigned).

SALMON, Judge.

In 1995, Hayfields, Inc. ("Hayfields"), owner of Hayfields Farm (the Farm), proposed to develop its 475-acre Baltimore County property into a residential community of single-family dwellings and a country club with an 18-hole golf course and other related facilities.

Hayfields filed a petition for special exception with the Baltimore County Zoning Commission to permit the proposed country club on the Farm. Hayfields also submitted a development plan for nearly 300 acres of the Farm, which included the country club and a portion of the residential component of the project. Valleys Planning Council, Inc., and several individually named adjacent and nearby property owners (collectively "VPC"), protested the subdivision and development of the Farm. The Zoning Commissioner granted Hayfields' petition and approved the development plan. VPC appealed. 1 The County Board of Appeals of Baltimore County (the Board) approved the petition for special exception, subject to certain conditions, and also approved the development plan but reduced from five to three the number of lots into which the property could be subdivided. The Circuit Court for Baltimore County affirmed the Board's decisions but removed two of the conditions that had been imposed.

Hayfields appealed and presents one question for our review, which we have rephrased:

Did the Board err in ruling that Hayfields could subdivide its 295-acre tract of R.C. 2-zoned land into only three lots?

VPC cross-appealed, presenting six questions:

1. Did the Board err in disregarding the adverse impact of the proposed special exception use on significant on-site resources of public importance?

2. Did the Board err in its application of Schultz v. Pritts?

3. Did the Board err in failing to consider the adverse impact of the proposed special exception use on the historic Hayfields Farm and National Register Historic District in which the Hayfields Farm is located?[ 2

4. Did the Board incorrectly impose the burden of proof on Valleys Planning Council?

5. Did the Board properly impose certain conditions on the special exception use with respect to the golf driving range?

6. Did the Board err in concluding that the definition of "country club" as used in the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations Section 101 includes a golf course plus a multiplicity of other facilities that are open to the public?


Hayfields Farm has existed for nearly 200 years. 3 Its soil is superior to that found on other farms in the region. 4 A portion of the land is still being farmed.

The Farm is underlain by a geological formation known as Cockeysville Marble, a large aquifer that constitutes an important source of water for wells in the area. There are some experts who believe that the Cockeysville Marble aquifer is particularly vulnerable to contamination.

Hayfields Farm is located on the northwest corner of the intersection of Interstate 83 and Shawan Road. To the east is a commercial area, to the south are residential developments, and to the north and west are agricultural communities. The Farm is the "gateway" to the rural area of Baltimore County and to the Western Run--Belfast Road National Register Historic District, a rural historic district noted for its agricultural significance. The original country home (the manor house), slaves' quarters, barns, and outbuildings were all built prior to the Civil War. 5 Baltimore County's Landmarks Preservation Commission (the LPC) has included these structures, seven in all, on its historic landmarks list. This designation provides the LPC with certain authority over proposed renovations of any listed structure. See Baltimore County Code §§ 26-540 through 26-555 (requiring the LPC to issue a certificate of appropriateness or notice to proceed to the building engineer prior to exterior changes being made to privately owned, landmarks-designated structures).

Hayfields' plan is to build an 18-hole golf course, driving range, clubhouse, restaurant, and other related facilities. The anticipated intensity of play at the golf course, which will be open to the public, is 45,000 rounds per year. This level of play is lower than that at other public golf courses in Baltimore County but higher than the level at almost all of the private courses in the area. 6

VPC is concerned that development of the property will destroy invaluable agricultural and historical assets, resources that are allegedly of benefit to the general public. The premier and highly productive Farm with a history encompassing agricultural, political, and legal components is uniquely deserving of preservation, says VPC. Moreover, VPC believes that the chemicals applied to the golf course may contaminate the water in the Cockeysville Marble aquifer and nearby wells.

In terms of zoning restrictions on the land on which the Farm lies, the property is split-zoned under the County's R.C. 2 and R.C. 4 zoning classifications. Both of these zones are designated for resource conservation: R.C. 2 is zoned agricultural, and R.C. 4 is zoned for watershed protection. Although the use of land for single-family dwellings is permitted as of "right" (i.e., permitted without conditions) in both R.C. 2 and R.C. 4 zones, use of land for a country club in these zones is permissible only by special exception (i.e., permitted providing certain conditions have been met).

Prior to breaking ground on this project, the Baltimore County Code (BCC) and the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations (BCZR) required Hayfields to obtain approval from the Zoning Commissioner for the proposed country club as a special exception use. See BCC § 26-127; BCZR §§ 1A01.2.C and 502. In addition, the project's development plan had to be approved under the procedures detailed in BCC § 26-206. As part of this process, a development plan that involves historically significant buildings or sites is subject to additional reviews. See BCC § 26-205(a)(11) and 26-207(a)(3); see also BCC § 26-545. Finally, approval must be requested for any variances necessary to comply with the BCZR. 7 See BCZR § 307.1.

A. Petition for Special Exception and Development Plan
1. Petition for Special Exception

In the spring of 1995, Hayfields filed with Lawrence E. Schmidt, Zoning Commissioner for Baltimore County, a petition for special exception for a country club on approximately 228 acres of the Farm. 8 The petition requested the Zoning Commissioner to approve the use of the land for an 18-hole golf course open to the public, with a limited membership component; a driving range with 30 tees, 3 target greens, and nighttime lighting; a pro shop; tennis and swimming facilities; a clubhouse; a public restaurant; a banquet hall; and limited overnight accommodations. Hayfields anticipated that the Farm's manor house would become the clubhouse, restaurant, and banquet hall; the building once used as slaves' quarters would be transformed into the pro shop; and the barns would be used for storage.

The Zoning Commissioner held a five-day public hearing and heard testimony from a variety of experts in the fields of agriculture, traffic engineering, hydrology and environmental science, environmental engineering, renovation of historic buildings, and landmarks preservation. Thirteen lay witnesses, many of whom live near the site, also testified. Additionally, the Baltimore County Zoning Plans Advisory Committee, comprised of several government agencies including the Office of Planning and Zoning and the Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, reviewed the zoning petition and submitted non-binding recommendations to the Zoning Commissioner.

Based on Schultz v. Pritts, 291 Md. 1, 432 A.2d 1319 (1981), Commissioner Schmidt analyzed the nature of the adverse impact associated with Hayfields' proposal. Following the Commissioner's conclusion that the impact on the locale surrounding the proposed site did not warrant the denial of the special exception, he granted Hayfields' petition and approved the site plan on June 30, 1995. VPC noted an appeal to the Board, which we discuss infra.

2. Submission of the Development Plan

In the spring of 1996, Hayfields submitted a development plan for Commissioner Schmidt's approval. The plan amended the number of R.C. 2 acres for the country club from approximately 225 acres to 273.1 acres and also included 21.8 acres of R.C. 2 land to be used for residential dwellings (for a total of 295 acres of R.C. 2 land incorporated in the development plan). At this time, Hayfields also filed two more zoning petitions--a petition for special hearing and a petition for variances. 9 Mr. Schmidt heard Hayfields' petitions in his capacity as Zoning Commissioner; with respect to the development plan, he acted in his capacity as Baltimore County Hearing Officer. 10 In the combined hearings, we refer to Commissioner Schmidt as Zoning Commissioner/Hearing Officer.

A four-day hearing was held on the development plan and the zoning issues. Testimony was presented by various witnesses, including experts who were involved in formulating...

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