Wells v. Pierpont, 184

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtBefore HAMMOND; McWILLIAMS; BARNES
Citation253 A.2d 749,253 Md. 554
PartiesLinwood WELLS v. Lafayette L. PIERPONT.
Docket NumberNo. 184,184
Decision Date27 May 1969

Page 554

253 Md. 554
253 A.2d 749
Linwood WELLS
Lafayette L. PIERPONT.
No. 184.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
May 27, 1969.

Page 555

[253 A.2d 750] Marvin I. Singer, Baltimore, for appellant.

W. Lee Harrison, Towson, for appellee.



In 1918 the appellee (Pierpont) bought the northwest corner of Windsor Mill Road and Clarke Avenue in the Baltimore County suburb of Woodlawn, which is about a mile west of the western boundary of Baltimore City. Ever since then the 14 room frame house on this two and one-third acre lot (the property) has been his home. In 1965, having reached the age of 81, he sold it to a supermarket entrepreneur. Since the property was in an R-6 (Residence, One and Two-Family) zone, a condition precedent to the consummation of the sale was that Pierpont would effect the reclassification of the property from R-6 to B-L (Business-Local). In June 1965 the Zoning Commissioner denied his petition. The County Board of Appeals (Board), in September 1967, reversed the Zoning Commissioner and granted the reclassification. In May 1968 the trial judge, Maguire, J., affirmed the action of the Board.

The property was placed in the R-6 classification by the adoption of the Comprehensive Zoning Map of November 1962 (the map) which, it is conceded, contains no error. Pierpont insists,

Page 556

however, that there was before the Board evidence of a substantial change in the character of the neighborhood, subsequent to the adoption of the map, sufficient to make that issue fairly debatable. Both the Board and Judge Maguire agreed with him. We do not. As we proceed to a consideration of the narrow question thus presented, one must be mindful of the relevant facts and circumstances.

The section of Windsor Mill Road with which we are concerned runs from the city line northwesterly to the Baltimore Beltway. It is an old road with only one lane of traffic in each direction. It runs downhill toward the property and then goes uphill for perhaps 1000 feet to the crest of a ridge, continuing on from there for something less than a mile to the Beltway. In 1964 Clarke Avenue was widened and renamed Woodlawn Drive. It intersects Windsor Mill Road at right angles. Judge Maguire, in his opinion, said it 'is at the present time a major highway in Baltimore County.'

As earlier mentioned the property lies in the northwest quadrant of the intersection. The northeast quadrant contains the playground of the Woodlawn Elementary School. The Volunteer Fire Company's building (the firehouse) occupies the southeast quadrant. The remaining quadrant includes the first of a row of well-kept detached houses. Abutting the property to the north is the Woodlawn Cemetery. Gwynn Oak Amusement Park is on the same side of Woodlawn Drive about one-half mile northeast of the property. On both sides of Woodlawn Drive, south of Windsor Mill Road, abutting the firehouse on one side and the residential lots on the other, the Clarke Manor Apartments (220 units) are located. Abutting the property on the northwest is the development known as Maple Hill consisting of about 20 houses. The predominant classification to the northwest, west and south is R-6. Indeed, there are no commercial uses on Windsor Mill Road between Woodlawn Drive and the Beltway except three non-conforming uses, one of which is a building containing nothing but unattended dial switching gear belonging to the telephone company; the other two are a service station and a small food market. A half mile or so to the northwest of the property there are several parcels that have been reclassified from R-6 to R-A (Residence-Apartments).

Page 557

Moving in an easterly direction along Windsor Mill Road, one encounters, after passing the Woodlawn Elementary School, the Woodlawn business district [253 A.2d 751] which was classified B-L by the adoption of the map. About a mile to the southwest is the large Security Boulevard Shopping Center, 'affirmed and recognized' by the map. Other shopping areas will be found along Liberty Road which runs parallel to Windsor Mill Road a mile or more farther north.

It is now firmly established that there is a strong presumption of the correctness of original zoning and of comprehensive rezoning, and that to sustain a piecemeal change therefrom there must be produced strong evidence of mistake in the original zoning or comprehensive rezoning or else evidence of substantial change in the character of the neighborhood. Minor v. Shifflett, 252 Md. 158, 249 A.2d 159 (1969), and the cases therein cited; Randolph Hills, Inc. v. Whitley, 249 Md. 78, 238 A.2d 257 (1968); Woodlawn Area Citizens Ass'n v. Board, etc., 241 Md. 187, 216 A.2d 149 (1966). And, of course, the burden of proof facing one seeking a zoning reclassification is quite onerous. Agneslane, Inc. v. Lucas, 247 Md. 612, 618, 233 A.2d 757 (1967), and the cases therein cited.

To support his contention that the evidence before the Board in respect of a substantial change in the character of the neighborhood made the issue fairly debatable Pierpont relies principally upon the testimony of Frederick P. Klaus whom we described, in Bosley v. Hospital For Consumptives of Maryland, 246 Md. 197, 202, 227 A.2d 746, 749 (1967), as 'a well-qualified real estate expert.' Mr. Klaus cited the widening of Woodlawn Drive (Clarke Avenue) in 1964 as the most significant evidence of change in the character of the neighborhood. The result, he said, was the movement of the center of Woodlawn from east of Gwynn Oak Avenue to the intersection of Windsor Mill Road and Woodlawn Drive. Even if his statement is correct, and quite likely it is, it has no validity in the context of the instant case. The testimony of George E. Gavrelis, Baltimore County's Director of Planning, an excerpt from which follows, is uncontradicted:

'Q. Mr. Gavrelis, at the time the land use map was adopted, was Woodlawn Drive then known as Clarke Boulevard (Avenue) located as it presently exists on

Page 558

the land use map? A. Woodlawn Drive, then called Clarke Boulevard (Avenue), was in fact, shown on the Western Area Master Plan. I believe that the location, finally constructed, was in almost precise correlation with the route shown on the map-obviously there could have been changes within a matter of feet, when construction occurred, from the route predicted, but essentially the route predicted and the construction that occurred were about the same, with only but minor change. (Emphasis added.)

'Q. Were the Clarke Manor Apartments located on the land use map when it was adopted finally? A. The Clarke Manor Apartments, in fact, secured their apartment zoning by means of the map.'

The 'character of the neighborhood,' as it concerns us here, was established by the map in November 1962. The map contemplated Woodlawn Drive almost precisely as it exists today just as it contemplated the erection of the Clarke Manor Apartments. It contemplated also the integrity, which has been maintained, of the R-6 classification along Windsor Mill Road west of Woodlawn Drive. Since Woodlawn Drive is the warp and woof of the neighborhood's 'character' it seems idle to argue that it has been changed thereby. Cf. Goucher College v. DeWolfe, 251 Md. 638, 248 A.2d 379 (1968); Bosley v. Hospital For Consumptives of Maryland, supra.

Mr. Klaus next cited a 22 acre tract 'three blocks' west of the property (beyond the ridge), on the same side of Windsor Mill Road, which was reclassified from R-6 to R-A in June 1964. At the time of the hearing, May 1967, it was still 'undeveloped.' He cited also a contiguous parcel of 26 acres, to the north of Windsor Mill Road, 'five blocks' from the property, which was reclassified from R-6 to R-A [253 A.2d 752] in November 1965. At the time of the hearing construction had begun on that parcel. We fail to see how these two rezonings can affect the 'character' of the neighborhood. The map ordained the construction of apartments (Clarke Manor) within a stone's throw of the property. More apartments a quarter to a half mile away, and out of sight to boot, other than to increase the population, would seem to be inconsequential and, as we said in County Com'rs of Anne Arundel County v.

Page 559

Fairwinds Beach Club, Inc., 230 Md. 569, 572, 187 A.2d 845, 846 (1963), 'a mere increase in population does not prove a change in the character of the neighborhood to justify another type of zoning.' Cf. Board of County Com'rs v. Kines, 239 Md. 119, 210 A.2d 367 (1965).

A half mile or more to the northeast of the property is a 63 acre tract, on the same side of Woodlawn Drive, the near end of which has been occupied by the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park for a number of years. The amusement park was, of course, a non-conforming use at the time of the adoption of the map, at which time sections of the entire 63 acre tract were classified R-10, R-6 and B-L. In September 1964 the entire tract (63 acres) was reclassified to B-R (Business, Roadside); at the same time a special exception was granted for the amusement park use. We are urged to look upon this rezoning as significant evidence of a change in the character of the neighborhood but we are not persuaded that this is so. The reclassification to B-R, we think, is more an intensification of the B-L classification than a change in use. In any case the adoption of the map committed a good part of the tract to commercial use. Furthermore, the very fact of the granting of the special exception for the amusement park, for some years a non-conforming use, presumes a determination by the zoning authorities that the requested use would not be 'detrimental to the health, safety, or general welfare of the locality involved,' Baltimore County Zoning Regulations, 502.1 a, or, as expressed in Wahler v. Montgomery County Council, 249 Md. 62, 69, 238 A.2d 266, 270 (1968), that the use specially excepted is...

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