A Victory For Property Rights In Marylandby Doug Mataconis
Last year, a Judge in Montgomery County, Maryland ruled that Marianne and Marc Duffy, who had bought and renovated a home in Chevy Chase, would have to tear the house down because it violated county zoning laws, even though the house as constructed had been approved by the county.
This week, another judge in Maryland overruled that decision and said that the Duffy’s would not be required to tear down their home:
Marc and Marianne Duffy, cited last year for building violations in a high-profile case, will be able to resume work on their Chevy Chase home, a Montgomery County judge has ruled.
The decision by Circuit Court Judge Nelson W. Rupp Jr. overturned two rulings by a county board that said the Duffys improperly rebuilt their Thornapple Street house too close to the street and to neighbors. Those rulings had left the couple with a choice between tearing down the house or finding a way to move it a few feet.
“As far as we’re concerned, this is now over. . . . The Duffys can finish their home without the need for any more permits,” the couple’s attorney, Michele Rosenfeld, said in an e-mail statement.
What was more interesting about the case, though, is the fact that it pitted the Duffy’s against some very high-profile neighbors:
The case attracted attention because it pitted the Duffys, both securities lawyers, against a group of prominent opponents, who raised questions about how well the county was enforcing its building regulations.
The Duffys’ neighbors had watched with alarm as the early-20th-century house began to look drastically different after several months of work. They complained to county officials that the Duffys, who had obtained permission to renovate the house, were rebuilding it instead, which would require that it be sited differently on the lot.
The neighbors include two journalists who live next door — Jane Mayer, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and her husband, William Hamilton, a Washington Post editor — lawyer Michael Eig and his wife, historic preservationist Emily Hotaling Eig, former ABC News reporter Jackie Judd and real estate agent Kristin Gerlach.
In other words, a few politically connected neighbors were trying to screw over the little guy.
This isnâ€™t eminent domain, but it might as well be. Through zoning laws such as this, the government often restricts the ways in which property owners can use their property in manners which have a significant impact on their value, none of which is compensated. While weâ€™re paying attention to the impact of Kelo, we shouldnâ€™t forget that there are other laws that restrict property rights.
Thankfully, at least one judge in Maryland is on the right side of this.