Attorney David Blyden told a Circuit Court Judge this week that a recent building permit revocation in Prince George's County had the "aura of election year litigation." Blyden made the statement in a hearing on an appeal to get the revocation overturned.
The attorney represented Equitable Trust Company which, with R & A Builders, applied for the permit to construct a six-unit shopping center on the corner of Old Branch and Chris Mar avenues in Clinton. He told Judge David Grey Ross that "what the county is trying to do is stop this project" and the "builders have a right to build their building."
The revocation appeal resulted from a complicated set of maneuvers on the part of both the owner-builders and the country over proper zoning for the 2/4-acre piece of property.
The land, situated at the entrances of a housing subdivision called Chris-Mar, was originally zoned commercial. And in March, Equitable Trust initiated a building permit application to construct a small shopping center on the property.
At the same time, the County Council, while studying the zoning as a part of the Clinton-Tanglewood Sectional Map Amendment, was considering a change in zoning for the land. At public hearings on the zoning, residents of Chris-Mar expressed strong sentiment against commercial development on the property and requested that the county down-zone the land to residential. In a straw vote on April 17, the council tentatively approved the subdivision's requested residential zoning for the property.
But on April 26 Equitable received a building permit for the shopping district and the next day began excavation and constuction on the commercial building. Blyden said the foundation construction gave Equitable a vested interest in theproperty and should allow it to retain commercial zoning should the council vote to change it.
On May 2 the county council formally voted to change the zoning from commercial to residential, and the Department of Licenses and Permits revoked the building permit that afternoon. The grounds for, revocation - that the Utility Protection Service had not been called by Equitable within 24 hours of excavation as required in the permit - was the basis for this week's appeal.
The service is necessary when doing excavation below 12 inches in order to ascertain whether underground gas lines or cables may be present on the property. Failure to do this, under county law, could permit the Licenses and Permits Division to revoke a building permits or to fine an offending contractor.
When Licenses and Permits revoked the building permit, Equitable and R & A Builders went to the Licenses and Permits Board of Appeals and, after a hearing won the right to keep the permit.
But the county requested another appeal, this time from a circuit court judge.
Both sides say the other "did not play fair" in the tangle over the zoning of the property. The county said that to begin construction on the site while the council was considering a resuming, was the "height of temerity." Attorneys for the owner-builder said it was a "highly ironical coincidence that down-zoning and revocation occurred on the same day."
Members of the Chris-Mar community, who followed the SMA hearings with a regularity not often seen in council chambers, said they felt "cheated" when they learned that a commercial development could rise on the front of their subdivision after they thought the council's action had assured them that the land would be safe from commercial encroachment.
"We thought we had it won when the council voted it residential," said Diane Thompson, a Christ-Mar resident. "And now this. There have been so many things false-stated."
Judge Ross said he expects to rule on the appeal of the appeal late this week. Equitable Trust may win the right to continue building its shopping center or could be forced to tear down the foundations and walls they put up last month.