Cecil County Twilight Zone: Broomell Rants Over Court Settlement’s Reversal of Amigos 2011 Zoning Coup
To settle a lengthy and costly court case, Cecil County will reverse a 2011 decision by the old ‚ÄúThree Amigos‚ÄĚ faction of the County Commissioners board to strip a Perryville property of its heavy industry zoning and downgrade it to the most restrictive agricultural designation. But Councilor Diana Broomell, who led the downzoning effort, lashed out Tuesday, attacking the County Council President, local ‚Äėtea party‚Äô activists and just about anyone in earshot.
The county government has already spent more than $5,600 on legal fees in the case, according to county officials, and a memo calculated potential additional county legal bills of $45,000 if the case went to trial as scheduled on 7/15/13, and a likely appeal of any Circuit Court decision. Settling the case now would save those costs. And the settlement would restore the status quo of the property, located on Carpenters Point road in Perryville, to the same as it was before the Amigos downzoned it on their own initiative.
But Broomell (R-4) did not go down without a fight, reading a statement at both a morning worksession and evening Council meeting in Elkton attacking the settlement of the court case. And she played to an evening crowd of cheering Carpenters Point residents who supported her downzoning effort and opposed settling the lawsuit, which was filed against the county by York Building Products, Inc. in 2011.
‚ÄúThe reason we‚Äôre doing this now, in my opinion, is we‚Äôre close to a trial date and the judge‚Ä¶gave every indication,‚ÄĚ Broomell declared, that he would ‚Äúprobably rule in our favor‚ÄĚ and sustain the downzoning. To settle the case now shows that ‚Äúif you go against a company with deep enough pockets you can ignore the integrity of the process.‚ÄĚ
Rhetoric aside, the history of the property‚Äôs handling by the county indicates there was a last-minute move by the Three Amigos then-majority of the Commissioners to impose its own agenda on the site, contrary to the findings of both the 40+ member citizen-led Comprehensive Plan Review panel and the county‚Äôs Planning Commission.
The property, located on Carpenters Point Road in Perryville, was previously zoned M2, or heavy industrial, and that designation was approved by the Planning Commission as part of the countywide comprehensive rezoning. The property‚Äôs owners had requested MEA, a mineral extraction designation, for part of the land but that request was rejected by the Planning Commission at its 2/9/11 meeting, according to meeting minutes. As a result, the land would have retained its M2 zoning designation.
But the County Commissioners, led by Broomell and other members of the ‚ÄúThree Amigos‚ÄĚ faction, suddenly decided on 4/19/11 to overrule the Planning Commission and impose a NAR (Northern Agricultural) designation, which is normally reserved for farmland in the most rural and remote areas of the northern county. There had been no advance hearings or planning staff rationales for such a significant downzoning of the industrial land to farmland status.
Broomell has often called herself a champion of private property rights, especially in dealing with state environmental mandates imposed on the counties. How she reconciles that view with her position on the NAR downzoning for the York site was unmentioned in her verbal assaults on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, as she warmed to her topic, Broomell raised her voice and declared, ‚ÄúWe have to remember who we are representing‚Ä¶it‚Äôs not just ourselves or those who fund our campaigns.‚ÄĚ
As some Carpenters Point residents applauded, but some members of the pro-property rights Cecil County Patriots registered disagreement, Broomell went into high voltage:
‚ÄúThe Patriots are frauds, they are not a tea party group,‚ÄĚ she asserted. Hodge hit his gavel and said, ‚Äúhold it, hold it, time out.‚ÄĚ
But Broomell would not go willingly to the time-out chair, and shouted: ‚ÄúThis is my comment section and I‚Äôve got an audience and I‚Äôm not missing this opportunity.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúPoint of order, Mr. President,‚ÄĚ Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) interjected sternly.
‚ÄúThey are working with the special interests of Robert Hodge,‚ÄĚ Broomell said of the Patriots. Hodge had voted against the downzoning of the York land.
Hodge chose not to respond, saying the meeting had lasted long enough.
Rants and raves aside, under the court settlement, York would not be allowed to engage in mineral extraction under its old M2 zoning. Instead, the landowners would have to apply to the Planning Commission for an MEB ‚Äúoverlay‚ÄĚ and also seek a ‚Äúspecial exception‚ÄĚ to do so, a process that would involve public hearings and a lengthy review process. The planning panel previously rejected a bid for mineral extraction on the site.
The Council is expected to vote on the resolution to implement the court settlement in two weeks.