Cecil County Circuit Court, July 13, 2010 — A case brought by two taxpayers seeking to stop the town from waiving $150,000 in major facilities fees for a developer building a senior citizen project on High Street went before Judge R. E. Beck this afternoon in the Circuit Court. Before the Judge heard all the evidence, the town announced it would enter into an agreement that it did not have the authority to grant a transfer of fees in Dec. 2009 and that the action of the mayor and commissioners is annulled. (Any transfer of fees will have to go back through the new process as outlined by ordinances the town has been busy passing in the past few weeks.) Also, the attorney fees for the plainntiffs, Jim Nicholson and Bob Litzenberg, will be reimbursement by the municipality and they will not be subject to lawsuits on this matter from other parties.
The legal wrangling started right off as two town attorneys, Norman Wilson and Jason Allyson, entered a second motion for dismissal. That’s an argument they’d first attempted in April, but a Judge disagreed. The issues were null and void since Elkton passed recent ordinances addressing the points the plaintiffs taxpayers raised such as the non-conforming lot size, parking lots as a prohibited use, and waiver of fees, they added this time. Representing Nicholson and Litzenberg, Keith Baynes pointed out that the contested actions were taken long before the town modified its ordinances to permit the building of the senior citizen building. They did have the authority and all the new regulations did was clarify that authority, Elkton’s representatives countered. As they worked through the finer points on this, noting that the town several times enacted new ordinances to address regulatory gaps, Judge Beck remarked that it seemed to him that whenever a mistake was found, the town just backed up and passed a new ordinance after the fact to cover the discrepancy. That raised a legal question about whether “when you change the law to satisfy actions already taken by the board, is it retroactive?” the judge commented. With that he ruled that there was plenty of evidence for the case to move forward.
Outside the courtroom, waiting to testify, were Commissioner Jablonski, Mayor Fisona, Town Administrator Lewis George, Planner Jean Minner and Building Official Craig Trostle. Earlier in the proceedings they had been sequestered so that each would testify individually without hearing other parts of the case. When the court took a brief break, the town’s political leadership, professional staff, and attorneys were seen huddled together outside, intensely talking things over. Soon Norman Wilson reentered the courtroom and announced the town was ready to enter into an agreement to settle the case and admit that it exceeded its authority to waive major facility fees and permit the transfer of those fees from one party to another.
Over the next few days, we’ll have much more on this story, including an update on all the new ordinances the town has enacted. Those include one to allow the town to waive fees, another changing zoning usages, and one to change the minimum lot size requirements. In addition, we’ll have an editorial on this matter.
Also take note of the indepth coverage Cecil Times is providing this news story.