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Judge hears case on truck stop zoning

April 18, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Lawyers for a county businessman and the Washington County Commissioners finished arguments Thursday over whether the county legally changed zoning rules governing trucking businesses in 2001, but the judge did not reach a decision on the matter.

Judge John H. McDowell did not say in court after arguments whether he would issue a written opinion or schedule a court date to give his opinion orally.

Donald M. Bowman, owner of a county-based trucking business, had planned to develop a 9-acre plot of land at the intersection of Md. 68 and Md. 63 near the Interstate 81 overpass, according to court documents and testimony Thursday.

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Bowman had intended on building a gas station for trucks and cars, as well as truck parking and a convenience store, Bowman and his attorney, John Urner, said Thursday.

The county's Permits and Inspections Department authorized Bowman to begin developing the land in August 2001, but after complaints from neighbors, the commissioners in October 2001 passed amendments changing the definitions of a truck stop and a truck terminal, according to testimony Thursday.

Bowman and his companies, Bowman-Spielman LLC and the Bowman Group LLP, sued the commissioners in February 2002 in Washington County Circuit Court, asking the court to declare the amendments invalid.

Urner argued Thursday that both amendments were illegal because the county did not prove the laws were for the general public benefit and the amendments unfairly targeted Bowman, but not similar businesses.

Urner claimed that Bowman and his companies would suffer from the revised regulations.

"What this case is about is motivation - what motivated the text amendment - and about justification," Urner said in his opening statement. "Both the motivation ... and the justification offered do not provide any public purpose or general welfare."

Arguing for the county, William Schildt claimed there was ample proof the county adopted the changes in good faith. He also said, citing witness testimony and documents, that not only Bowman, but all businesses, would be affected, making the amendments fair.

At one point during cross examination, Schildt focused on whether Bowman had tried to continue with the project once the amendments had been passed.

After Bowman said county officials had not written him saying not to move forward with the project, Schildt asked, "Did anyone orally tell you, 'Mr. Bowman, you can't build that project ...?'"

"I would say no," Bowman said.

Schildt entered a motion to end the case claiming that Bowman "suffered no injury" because he did not try to proceed with the project after the amendments were enacted.

"We don't know what would happen if they did pursue (the project) ... The fact is nothing has happened for which there is a real controversy," Schildt said.

McDowell denied that motion as well as a motion to rule in favor of the county.

In addition to Bowman, county Director of Permits and Inspections Paul Prodonovich and former County Commissioner Bert Iseminger testified.

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