The History of the Baltimore County Master Plan

In People's Counsel for Baltimore County v. Webster, 65 Md. App. 694, 501 A.2d 1343, cert. denied, 306 Md. 70, 507 A.2d 184 (1986), the Court upheld the County Board's affirmation of the Zoning Commissioner's grant of a petition for a special exception required for a proposed project. 65 Md. App. at 696. Specifically, the Court addressed whether "the Baltimore County Master Plan 1979-1990, as amended on January 5, 1981, prohibited the use of appellee's property for a new office building permitted within its R-C zoning classification?" 65 Md. App. at 695. The Court began by explaining the history of the Baltimore County Master Plan: Article V, Subdivision 6, of the Baltimore County Charter (1978 ed., 1984 Supp.) creates the Office of Planning and Zoning. The office is directed by 522.1 of that Charter to plan for the development of the county, including the preparation of a master plan, a zoning map, subdivision regulations, and zoning rules and regulations. Section 523(a) of the Charter provides that the master plan shall set forth comprehensive objectives, policies, and standards to serve as a guide for the development of the county and 523(b) states that the zoning maps are to be consistent with the master plan. Under 523, the County Council, upon receipt of the master plan and zoning maps, and the rules and regulations, is empowered to accept or modify them and then adopt them by resolution. Sections 522.1 and 523 of the Charter were adopted by the County Council in 1978, approved by the voters of the county, and became effective December 8, 1978. The Charter Revision Commission which proposed these charter amendments commented on the proposed 523 in its report filed on March 14, 1978: This section number corresponds to an existing number in the Charter, but the text is all new. Because the master plan is a basic document which should serve as a guide to orderly development in the County, the Commission recommends that a broad definition of it be given in the Charter. The Commission recommends that the County Council alter the Master Plan as necessary, then adopt it by resolution. It is not the intent of the Commission that all actions in the County should automatically be required to conform with every detail of the master plan because of this resolution. It would be up to the Council to define any enforcement mechanisms by legislative act. However, the Commission does want the development of a Master Plan to which the Council can and will make a commitment. The Council then can enact a zoning map consistent with the master plan, as provided in subsection 523(b), and the master plan will provide a reference document Council members can depend upon when they must resist pressures to draw zoning maps to conform with transient political demands. Pursuant to 522.1, the Office of Planning and Zoning prepared a master plan, the Baltimore County Master Plan 1979-1990, which was accepted by Council resolution on November 19, 1979. The master plan was amended on January 5, 1981 by Council Resolution 2-81 adopting the Towson Town Center Plan (the Towson Plan). (Id. at 698-99.) The Court held that a master plan is a guide when executing the zoning process, stating: This charter language is not vague or ambiguous and evidences the clearest intent of its framers. That the master plan was to serve as a guide to the County Council in its promulgation of the maps and regulations when executing the zoning process is patent from the resolution of the Council in adopting the master plan. . . .This has been the generally accepted role of the master plan in this context. As we noted in Floyd v. County Council of P.G. Co., 55 Md.App. 246, 258-59, 461 A.2d 76 (1983): It is commonly understood, in Maryland and elsewhere, that Master Plans are guides in the zoning process. Chapman v. Montgomery County Council, 259 Md. 641, 271 A.2d 156 (1970); Board of County Comm'rs. for Prince George's County v. Edmonds, 240 Md. 680, 215 A.2d 209 (1965); see Montgomery County v. Woodward & Lothrop, Inc., 280 Md. 686, 376 A.2d 483, cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1067 98 S. Ct. 1245, 55 L. Ed. 2d 769 (1977) (Master Plan a guide, not a straitjacket); Kanfer v. Montgomery County Council, supra 35 Md. App. 715, 733, 373 A.2d 5, cert. denied, 281 Md. 741 (1977) (plan a "prophecy" as to future development). Master Plan guidelines are mandatory only if an ordinance so provides. Cf. Coffey v. Md.-Nat'l. Cap. Park & Planning Comm'n., 293 Md. 24, 441 A.2d 1041 (1982) (subdivision case); Board of County Comm'rs. of Cecil County v. Gaster, 285 Md. 233, 401 A.2d 666 (1979). See also Md.-Nat'l Cap. P. & P. v. Wash. Bus. Pk., 294 Md. 302, 449 A.2d 414 (1982). (Id. at 702-03.)