Amid objections, ruling allows Pr. George's concrete plant

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Prince George's County Circuit Court judge ruled Friday that county lawmakers acted properly when they approved a company's request to build a concrete plant in a small, working-class community just outside Fairmount Heights and Cheverly.

Judge Thomas P. Smith's ruling gives American Resource Management Group the go-ahead on its long-awaited plans to build the Marvaco Concrete Batch Plant in Cedar Heights, an unincorporated area of the county.

Before issuing his decision, Smith made certain that community residents, who filled two rows in the courtroom, understood his mission.

"It is not up to the court to decide if the District Council did this in the correct order or made the correct decision," Smith said. He said he had to determine whether the District Council acted according to the law.

Jane F. Barrett, director of the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic, argued during a public hearing in 2008 and in court last year that the community -- which has an asphalt plant, a recycling transfer station and a clay-mining operation -- has been overburdened by the facilities already there. She also said the applicant defined the area that would be affected too narrowly and underestimated the increase in noise and traffic.

Residents of Fairmount Heights, Seat Pleasant and Cheverly joined the lawsuit, arguing that their quality of life would be affected by the plant.

Smith rejected Barrett's arguments about noise, traffic and the description of the neighborhood, saying the District Council used information provided by county planning board staff members and others to support its decision.

Thomas E. Haller, an attorney for American Resource Management Group, said he was pleased with the court's ruling. Barring an appeal and problems with permits, Haller said, construction could begin by the end of the year. The plant's former site was displaced by Nationals Park. Since then, American Resource Management Group has been trying to build in the county.

The site on Sheriff Road where the group wants to build is zoned industrial, but zoning rules require the District Council to approve a special exception should another plant want to build in the area. The County Council sits as the District Council to hear zoning cases.

Barrett said the law requires the council to consider existing conditions in making its decision but contends that those factors were not taken into consideration.

"The issue is whether they should address existing conditions when deliberating on an applicant that is coming in with a new activity," Barrett said. "We believe they should have. . . . That issue was not addressed in the court's verbal decision today."

Thurman B. Jones Jr., a Cedar Heights resident who challenged the council's decision along with five residents from Seat Pleasant, Fairmount Heights and Cheverly, said Smith's decision was disappointing.

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