- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Maryland’s highest court voided a zoning exception for a military training and research facility in Nanjemoy on Dec. 19, writing that the Charles County Board of Appeals violated open meetings law by prohibiting citizens from joining a tour of the site it conducted with representatives of the applicant.
The entire board of appeals, a quasi-judicial body handling county zoning matters, visited the 80-acre site with officials of Washington Security Group, the Sterling-based applicant, to take a tour and ask questions. The board allowed project opponents to select two representatives to join the tour but turned away a third, Charles E. Parmley, a neighboring landowner, from the March 2009 visit, according to facts stated in the written opinion handed down by a panel of nine Maryland Court of Appeals judges.
Parmley’s exclusion violated several open meetings provisions, as did the board’s failure to record the meeting, the opinion states.
The court sent the matter back to the board of appeals.
“That’s the way I read it. They would have to start from scratch,” said Kurt Wolfgang, the La Plata attorney representing opponents of the project.
He said the ruling had restored the faith of his clients and their supporters in the fairness of government.
“I thought a lot about it, and as you know from other things that have gone on in this county, there are plenty of people, citizens in the county that are just fed up with things being done in closed meetings and in inappropriate fashions for inappropriate reasons. This has got to be looked upon as a great victory by those people, something to give them hope,” Wolfgang said.
The decision might signal the end of the case. With no higher state court, any appeal would have to be to the federal judiciary, if WSG alleges a violation of federal law, or straight to the U.S. Supreme Court, Wolfgang said.
WSG’s attorney Mark D. Mudd of La Plata said he could not comment because he had not yet consulted with his client.
One of the plaintiffs, Marsha Back of Nanjemoy, hailed the ruling as “a big victory for us.”
A neighbor of the site, she feared stray bullets from a shooting range, the noise from air traffic to a helipad, and environmental damage if the facility were built, she said.