Montgomery County's right to prohibit a development company from building a high-rise structure on land the company owns in Friendship Heights was upheld yesterday by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The county's authority was confirmed when the high court refused to review a lower court ruling in Montgomery's favor.
The decision means that, as long as current zoning for the area remains in effect, a 14-story office building planned by the Donohoe Construction Co. for a site just off Wisconsin Avenue will not be built. The only proper use for the land under current zoning regulations is for a park or a retail store.
The action follows by four months another Supreme Court decision that upheld the county's right to limit growth in the heavily populated Friendship Heights area.
A spokesman for the Donohoe firm said he did not know what the company would do with the land, which is occupied by two homes at 4623 and 4625 North Park Ave.
The case goes back more than five years, when the company purchased the two parcels, with a combined area of 11,360 square feet, for $379,000, according to firm's spokesman, who declined to be named.
At that time, the Friendship Heights area was zoned for high-rise commercial and residential construction, which had helped transform the quiet village from a suburban area of only 400 people to a mini metropolis of more than 3,000, according to area planners.
While Donohoe was completing its purchase of the property, the county changed its zoning requirements to restrict the number of people who could live or work on property built in the area.
The county allocated money to repurchase the land from Donohoe, and listed the parcels as future park sites, according to Donohoe's attorney, Warren K. Kaplan. The money never was appropriated, and its designation as a park prevented Donohoe from selling the land to anyone else, Kaplan said.
Donohoe then sued the Montgomery County Council, the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission, and the county zoning board, claiming that by their new zoning requirements they had in effect "condemned" Donohoe's property, Kaplan said.
The U.S. District Court in Baltimore agreed with Donohoe, and awarded the company $461,042 in compensation. However, late last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision claiming that there had been judicial error.
It was the Appeals Court decision that the Supreme Court declined to review.