Allegheny County circuit court judge rules Washington County Commissioners illegally adopted truck stop bans in Maryland 

March 22 – Another part of the story comes down from a judge with the Bowman Development Corporation and Washington County Commissioners truck stop debate in Maryland. 

Here’s the history: 

Bowman Development Corporation wanted to build a truck stop that would include a Sheetz in Washington County. 

At the end of November, the previous group of Washington County Commissioners decided in a 3-2 vote to ban the creation of any new truck stops in the county as well as require any warehouses more than one million square feet to get special exception approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals. 

That would mean Bowman would have to halt all plans. 

This vote happened without any input from the planning commission and two of the commissioners who voted in favor of this are no longer on the board. 

There were residents who were very opposed to the truck stop. 

The matter was taken to the courts. 

Bowman Development Corporation filed a series of injunctions to stay or postpone the zoning amendment the commissioners voted on because protocol wasn’t followed. 

Yesterday, a retired Allegheny County circuit court judge ruled the commissioners illegally adopted the ban. 

Paul Frey, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce said, “He said it violates state and local laws, so a little bit of a win for the Bowmans and for really truck stop developers where they’re supposed to be in Washington County.” 

There will be an additional hearing on April 5 at the appeals circuit court to appeal that the county zoning board approved the development. 

Frey said, “It’s kind of a move forward.” 

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM suggested, “These commissioners should be sent the bill for all of this legal wrangling. It’s ridiculous what the Bowmans are being put through and the legal system could be doing something far more better with their time than trying to clean up what two of five who were over their skis on in the first place.” 

There are likely tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees that have accrued here and that meter will keep running as this case continues through the system. 

Ryan said, “It’s outrageous that they could do that and then kind of get away with it. I can’t take it anymore.”

Apparently former County Commissioner Charles Burkett said the vote was for guidelines, not laws. 

Frey said, “The judge is saying they are not just guidelines, they are laws. They are what needs to be followed. So hopefully we’ll get another hearing here and we can get a more full and robust feedback from the entire community about this former ban.”

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “As I recall, going back to when that vote occurred, the solicitor even advised that they were on shaky ground. That there were all sorts of issued that had not been satisfactorily addressed. This judge is pointing out local ordinances, municipal county ordinances, they are the equivalent of law. These are not just guidelines. You must follow your own municipal ordinances and this judge is saying he does not think the commissioners did that.”  

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM said, “We’ve been talking as a theme lately about how some executives or elected officials at the top of whatever we’re talking about, a county, a state, a federal government who think that they can just decree things that doesn’t follow the law and then we go through the courts and sometimes we worry because there seems to be activist judges who are not paying attention to things like ‘I’m here to decide whether it’s following the law or not.’ It’s so nice to hear a judge do exactly what they’re supposed to do. People have a right to fight this if they want to, absolutely, but we don’t want our executives or our judicial people handing wins to people not based in law. So that’s good news.” 

Frey added, “The judge said the Bowman Development Company, they have property rights, as do the home owners. We’re just saying let’s follow the guidelines, let’s follow the laws to bring this issue forward.” 

Ryan noted, “Meanwhile the clock is running on the dough as well. We did all the studies. We did all the paperwork. We filed all the reports. There are people who want to get to work here as well. And putting the brakes completely on all truck stops. That’s what the commissioners did.” 

Frey said, “The site work’s been done. The Sheetz Company, they want to build. They have some investments to make. They have some jobs to develop. I’m heading to Frederick this morning and over South Mountain, there’s probably 200 trucks sitting either in the rest stop or on the shoulder. We need more places that are supposed to be developed for truck stops and these types of services.” 

Could the Bowman Development Corporation seek reimbursement of legal fees? 

Barkdoll said, “Rarely are legal fees awarded, but the court does have the discretion to do that and if the appellate court feels that this was a clear cut case from the beginning and it has cost the Bowmans time and money in legal fees and other expenses, there are scenarios that a court could order the county to reimburse the Bowman Group for their legal fees and expenses.” 

Ryan wondered, “Why aren’t there levers in place to then fine, you two heard the advice from your legal counsel and you did this anyway. So before you go ahead and make this final vote, sign this piece of paper because if it goes back on you then we’re going to come back and get you to pay the bills. You can split it, but why aren’t those levers in place here for activist lawmakers like these two that skulk out and leave the bag of crap for the taxpayers in Washington County?” 

Barkdoll noted, “There’s where I think this idea of legal fees could have some traction. Some of those communications of course would be confidential attorney/client, but to the extent some of that advice was apparently given in the context of public meeting and I don’t know how explicit it was, but if the solicitor was saying there’s problems here and here are the problems, you shouldn’t do it and then an hour or two later they voted to approve it, I think that could be a problem that gets into the realm of potential legal fees. On the other hand, if the solicitor gave them a memo outlining why you could do it and why you can’t, it’s a close call, it’s kind of gray, then I think the commissioners would have some safety behind a memo like that. These are the sort of things I would not be surprised if you see come up in the context of the appeal if the Bowman Group is seeking some reimbursement for their expenses.”