UPPER MARLBORO — The District Council held an oral argument hearing on Feb. 11, after the Port Towns Environmental Action (PTEA) filed an appeal to the Zone Hearing Examiner’s approval of a concrete batching plant to be built in Bladensburg.
The PTEA filed the appeal on Sept. 21 following a nearly two-year process before the original approval of the plant.
The applicant, Ernest Maier, Inc., applied to build its second plant in Bladensburg back in December 2016 and was initially approved by the Prince George’s County Zone Hearing Examiner (ZHE) in November 2017.
However, it was at the time remanded by the District Council for many flaws in the application such as a lack of evidence or resolve problems that the opposition found and that the ZHE did not properly follow the appropriate standard for review.
After making significant changes to their application and providing additional evidence required by the District Council’s remand including adding further evidence to address the distance from surrounding properties, the ZHE again approved the plant on August 23, 2018, with a list of conditions that the company must follow.
The PTEA’s attorney David Blitzer argued in the appeal that the accepted application was drastically different from the original, calling it “a disingenuous and woefully veiled attempt to skirt the clear requirements of the Zoning Ordinance.”
During the oral argument hearing, Blitzer stuck by his original argument, and speaking on behalf of the PTEA and the opposition, asserted that the applicant’s errors fell into three categories: procedural errors, erroneous findings and erroneous conclusions of law.
Blitzer said that the applicant should not have been allowed by the ZHE to withdraw and submit a new application because it is prohibited in the county’s Zoning Ordinance.
“Alternatively, even if this council were to believe that new application was to be considered an amendment to the prior application as opposed to a brand new application, the clear, unequivocal provisions of Zoning Ordinance also prohibits those types of amendments under the circumstances of this case,” Blitzer said.
Further, Blitzer said there is no evidence that the application complies with all of the requirements outlined in the Zoning Ordinance such as being set back 300 feet from the commercial and residential property. The applicant claimed they have only required a 100-foot setback.
“The opposition respectfully submits that the interpretation proctored by the applicant and adopted by the hearing examiner on remand is not only illogical but is also in direct conflict with the Maryland County of Appeals jurisprudence on statutory interpretation,” Blitzer said.
Ernest Maier, Inc.’s attorney Dan Lynch issued a rebuttal stating that they did not wholly withdraw their application but amended it and because of the placement of the plant, they are only subject to the 100-foot setback from surrounding commercial and residential property.
“We do not adjoin property in a residential zone. We do adjoin property in an industrial zone, and for that reason, we are subject to the 100-foot setback. For that reason, regardless of what our opponents say, we are subject to a 100-foot setback, and, again they do not have any evidence in the record to support their contention that we are subject to the 300 -foot setback.”
The PTEA’s appeal listed a number of other issues over the two years they have fought against the plant. One of them is that the plant poses health and environmental issues in the surrounding area.
They said Bladensburg already bears a disproportionate amount of environmental burdens, the area has four concrete/asphalt plants within close proximity and Bladensburg is in the 90 to 95th percentile in the United States for National Air Toxics Assessment cancer risk.
They have also cited concerns for pedestrian safety due to the increased traffic the plant would cause and worries about how the plant would affect nearby landmarks such as the historic St. Paul’s Baptist Church, the Bladensburg Library, Bladensburg Elementary School and the Chesapeake Bay Critical Overlay Zone.
However, Lynch claimed there would be no adverse effects from the plant at all and said the ZHE stated that having a plant built on an already existing property would have much less of an impact.
In addition to approval from the ZHE, he said they had also heard testimony from experts such as a traffic engineer, an air quality engineer, a noise engineer as well as the Anacostia Watershed Society. All but one expert they spoke to thought there would be no adverse effects from the plant.
“We’re not introducing a concrete batching plant onto a raw piece of ground located in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” Lynch said. “We’re putting this on the site of an existing batching plant where all the materials are already there, the sand, the gravel and the cement, and based upon the evidence that was presented, and there will be no adverse impacts generated by this plant.”
Bladensburg Mayor Takisha James also spoke before the District Council on behalf of Ernest Maier, Inc. urging the council to accept the application. She said bringing the plant to the town would not only increase development but set an example for other industrial companies to be an environmentally friendly business and show that Prince George’s County is “a business-friendly environment.”
Following a series of questions from the council members to Blitzer and Lynch and further analysis of the case given by People’s Zoning Counsel Attorney Stan Derwin Brown, this agenda item was adjourned, and the District Council said they would deliberate and come to a vote at a later date.