BLADENSBURG — The Port Towns Environmental Action (PTEA) committee filed an appeal on Sept. 21 of the Prince George’s County Zone Hearing Examiner’s decision to approve a concrete batching plant to be built in Bladensburg.
The appeal, written by the PTEA’s attorney David Blitzer, argued that “the decision to recommend approval of the application with conditions is legally incorrect and not based on substantial evidence in the record.”
The Zone Hearing Examiner (ZHE) approved the plant on Aug. 23 with a list of 18 conditions that included a limit on the amount of truckloads that can come into the plant per day, a limit on operating hours and conditions that have to do with the upkeep of the town such as installing a “Welcome To Bladensburg” sign and an annual monetary contribution to the city.
The decision would have become final on Sept. 23 if the PTEA had not filed their appeal.
The proceedings for the concrete batching plant began in 2016 when Ernest Maier, Inc. originally applied and was accepted for review. The ZHE recommended the plant for approval in 2017 but it was remanded by the District Council who felt that the application lacked evidence to resolve the opposition to the ZHE’s findings and that the ZHE did not follow the proper, appropriate standard of review for a variance of special exception.
At the remand hearing in June, the ZHE heard the new application from Ernest Maier, Inc. which made significant changes from the original and after hearing further argument from both sides, the ZHE approved the plant. Although the application was approved, PTEA felt that the ZHE did not properly follow the procedure and the application did not give evidence to support the decision.
“Their memos to the District Council skirted the remand order from the District,” said PTEA Community Advocate Paul Howe. “The statement that they made to the Zone Hearing Examiner and all that skirted the remand order by submitting a new application and they didn’t respond to the District Council’s request for information.”
According to Blitzer’s appeal, the application that the ZHE approved was drastically different from the application that was remanded by the District Council.
The original was a single application for special exception and variances which were in accordance with the county’s Zoning Ordinance. The new application differed by not including the request for variances enlarging the scope of the particular exception area and includes new and additional lots.
“The application that was considered by the honorable Council and (Technical Staff) was a single application for a special exception and corresponding variances that had been filed with section 27-236 of the Zoning Ordinance of Prince George’s County, Maryland,” Blitzer wrote in the appeal.
“But, in a disingenuous and woefully veiled attempt to skirt the clear requirements of the Zoning Ordinance and avoid having to address the specific issues identified in the Council’s order, the Applicant withdrew the prior application and submitted a materially different new application on remand.”
The ZHE should not have allowed the applicant to withdraw and enter a new application, Blitzer said, because the Zoning Ordinance mandates that “no new special exception application for the same use may be filed on the same land for two years thereafter.”
The District Council’s remand called for clarification and additional testimony to the application they looked at, and the Zoning Ordinance does not allow amendments to the application after the case has gone to the District Council.
Blitzer argued that the ZHE further erred by determining that the concrete batching plant would be subject to a 100-foot setback from all surrounding property, instead of the 300 feet specified by the Zoning Ordinance, and the applicant did not produce sufficient evidence to support the change.
The council’s remand stated that components of the plant not in compliance with the setback could have adverse effects on its surroundings and this was not settled at the remand hearing.
The plant at its location will “undoubtedly have substantial adverse impacts well beyond those associated with the use irrespective of its location,” Blitzer said and referred to the nearby historic St. Paul’s Baptist Church among the places that could be affected as well as the increased traffic the trucks will create.
The PTEA’s appeal was on the agenda of the District Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 24.
However, Councilmember Andrea Harrison, who presides over District 5 where the plant would be built, decided to take no action on it when asked by Council Chair Dannielle Glaros because the matter was awaiting scheduling for an oral argument hearing. The council then moved on to the next item.
“The meeting was on the agenda, and it was just basically for scheduling purposes,” Howe said. “So they did acknowledge that we requested an oral argument and that hearing will be scheduled at a future date. We think it has to be heard no later than April 1, 2019.”
During the oral argument hearing the applicant, the PTEA and their lawyers will make statements before the council. The council will then ask questions and consider the evidence before making a decision but cannot publicly comment on an ongoing case before a determination is made.
Ernest Maier, Inc., which has been in operation for about 92 years, already operates another concrete plant in the area where they make ready mix concrete.
President Brendan Quinn hopes to gain the trust of the community as they go forward with this new plant. He said he aims to work with the community, not against them.
“We’re going to do everything we can and I think what we get out of this is an improved neighbor, meaning us a company, where we can bring everything up to the 21st century regulations as we put this plant up and are able to put in the storm water infrastructure and certain other things from water reuse project to keep the dust down,” he said.
“I think what will happen if we should get the plant up and going so we’ll be a better neighbor than we are today.”
However, Howe said that the dishonesty in their application displays the opposite of what Quinn says.
“To me, that’s kind of a disconnect between working with the community and conducting their business in that matter,” Howe said. “We’re going to see what happens when this all is put out there, probably in early 2019.”