Monrovia Town Center case heads back to Circuit Court

When: Tuesday, May 9th

On May 9th at 9am, the Monrovia Town Center (MTC) case goes back to the Circuit Court.

As you may recall, we’ve been there before. Over two years ago, following RALE’s appeal of the controversial approval of the proposed greenfield development in Monrovia by the Blaine Young Board of County Commissioners (BoCC), Circuit Court Judge William Nicklas remanded the case back to the County Council. At issue in this decision was the now infamous “FACT letter,” including how it came to be and how it was used to influence the MTC case. Judge Nicklas determined that the MTC case record was so tainted by this letter that he couldn’t continue his review of the case. As a result, he took the unprecedented step of sending MTC back to the County Council for further proceedings to resolve a specific set of issues. Now, over two years later, the case is back with Judge Nicklas and, frankly, those issues are still unresolved and the case record is just as tainted as before.

For a little bit of background, let’s first remind you that MTC proposed 1,250 homes just north of the intersection of MD80 and MD75 in Monrovia. The hearings before the Planning Commission and the BoCC brought out hundreds of people opposed to the development. Arguments centered around the impact that the high density development would have on local schools, roadways, aquifers, and the loss of farmland. Among these, the impact of an additional 12,000 car trips each day on MD 75 – a two-lane, hilly, twisting country road – figured prominently. Local residents were unanimous in their concern about the roadway, and the State had consistently told Frederick County that there were no funds for the needed improvements.

On the last day of public hearings over the development, when public testimony was closed, Blaine Young brought out a letter purportedly from the Frederick Area Committee on Transportation, or FACT. The FACT letter, which Young read word for word into the record, extolled the virtues of the MTC proposal. Young read out the names of the FACT members that he claimed were behind the letter, and touted it as positive support of the MTC development by a supposedly neutral body of transportation experts.

There was only problem – the FACT members that he named had never seen the letter. In fact, as reported in the Frederick Newspost on 3 June 2014, the letter was the product of only three men – County Commissioner C. Paul Smith, Michael Proffitt, and Michael Smariga. None of the other FACT directors voted upon or endorsed the letter in any way. What’s worse, Smariga is the father of the MTC developer’s lead project engineer and co-founder of the MTC engineering firm. Yet, Blaine Young and the MTC lead attorney touted it as a significant piece of evidence in favor of the development. Fortunately, Judge Nicklas thought otherwise.

As it turned out, so did the County Council. Following a series of public hearings and extensive review of the MTC case record, the Council reached a similar conclusion as Judge Nicklas. Not only were they unable to resolve the issues directed to them by the Circuit Court, a majority of Council members also could not reconcile the impact of the letter upon the case record. As a result, on 1 September 2015, the Council ordered the MTC hearing process to begin again. However, shortly before Planning Commission hearings were expected to begin, the MTC developers requested a delay so that they could revise their application. What followed was months of delay, a lawsuit filed by the developer against the County, RALE, and 22 individuals that opposed the development, and then more months of delay. The MTC developer then hired new attorneys who sent several antagonistic letters to the County, opposing the mandated hearing process and threatening additional litigation.

The Council had had enough. With the developer failing to cooperate in the County’s mandated process, the Council decided to send the case back to the Circuit Court. May 9th begins this next phase of the MTC saga. It’s an intriguing situation. The last time Judge Nicklas sat over the case, he decided that the record was too tainted to begin the appellate review. Nothing has changed since then. So what might occur now? I think there are three possibilities:

1) He could decide to restart RALE’s original appeal;

2) He could also decide to bring testimony to attempt to resolve the issues in the record; or

3) He could simply decide to vacate the MTC zoning, APFO LOU and DRRA approvals, effectively enforcing the County order to restart the hearing process.

We don’t expect to learn which option Judge Nicklas will decide on May 9th. In fact, May 9th should just be about defining a process and a schedule for the Judge to hear argument from MTC, RALE, and – potentially – the County on how things should proceed. This won’t be a public hearing and the public won’t have an opportunity to speak. However, I still encourage you to attend. We think it’s important to send a message that Frederick County residents haven’t forgotten about MTC and haven’t given up our opposition to the development. I’ll be taking time off work to attend. I hope to see you there.

Steve McKay

President, Residents Against Landsdale Expansion (RALE)