The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has upheld a 1984 decision by the Prince George's County Council to grant only partial zoning approval to the planned Konterra minicity near Laurel.
The state's second highest court overturned a Prince George's Circuit Court judge's ruling in October 1985 that the council did not have sufficent reason to approve mixed-use zoning for 488 acres of the proposed 1,458-acre project while at the same time denying such zoning for the remaining 970 acres.
"The council's only apparent reason" for the action, wrote Circuit Judge James Magruder Rea, "was that the whole matter was big and that they were hesitant on acting on something that is big."
Rea's ruling, a rare instance of a county court overturning a council zoning decision, was appealed by both the County Council and by opponents of the massive Konterra project, which will straddle I-95 south of Laurel.
In a 31-page opinion issued last week, the Court of Special Appeals ruled that the council was justified in treating the two tracts differently.
A fair reading of the county master plan -- which provides general guidelines for the way in which property should be zoned -- would include the position that the two tracts should be treated differently, the three-judge panel said.
County officials were elated at the decision. County Executive Parris Glendening, who called the ruling "a vindication of the zoning process," said that "the court clearly said that the council was exactly right -- that it is within the council's discretion to make that public policy decision" to approve only part of the project.
Council member Frank P. Casula, who represents the Laurel area and who negotiated the council's compromise vote on Konterra, agreed. The ruling was "no surprise," he said. "The only surprise was Judge Rea's ruling. What we did was appropriate."
Developer Kingdon Gould Jr. said he was disappointed by the ruling because it does not change the status of the 970-acre tract rezoning. But he said he was pleased that at least part of the massive project, planned to include residential, commercial and office buildings to be built over a 30-year period, was approved.
"All this litigation has only consumed a great deal of time and money and brought us back to the original council decision," he said. "I will be glad to do what I said I would do and what the council said I could do."
Walter H. Maloney Jr., an attorney who has led opposition to the project, said his group was not deterred by the decision and will probably appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals.
The 488-acre tract "is still the largest rezoning in the history of the county. It is going to do an awful lot of damage to this part of the county," he said.