The Frederick County Board of County Commissioners will need to retrace its steps when pursuing the privatization of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living facility.
The city's Zoning Board of Appeals voted Tuesday to reverse the city Planning Commission's decision to subdivide the land.
The land the centers sit upon must be subdivided from the rest of the parcel they are on in order for the county to sell the land and privatize the centers.
The Board of County Commissioners voted this past summer to privatize the centers. A planned sale to Millersville-based Aurora Health Management, which is now operating the centers, is not yet final.
The plan has faced opposition from residents and members of the centers' former board of trustees, who think the centers should continue to serve as public entities serving low-income residents.
The board of trustees was dissolved in June when the county commissioners voted to move forward with the sale of the two facilities.
In its decision Tuesday, the board agreed with the one former board member and two residents who appealed the Planning Commission's decision in a few ways, stating that the county's application was not complete, and the commission should have considered the intent of the subdivision and how the county's plan for the land would affect city residents.
The commission erred when considering the incomplete application, erred in failing to evaluate whether the plan conflicted with the city's comprehensive plan, and erred when thinking that that they were restricted from asking the county its plan for the land, said Jim Racheff, zoning board chairman.
The zoning board voted unanimously to vacate the approval of the subdivision, and remand it back to the planning process.
The county could now file an appeal, or refile a subdivision application to the Planning Commission.
John Mathias, the county's attorney, said after the board's decision that the Planning Commission had it right.
He declined to comment further.
Reached by phone Tuesday night, County Commissioners President Blaine Young said the board's decision will prolong the process of selling the land. He said the commissioners anticipated these issues with subdividing the land and understood it would be a delayed process. Though Young had hoped to finalize the sale by December, he said that now it would not happen until March.
Young said the issue has become political.
"I wish they would just follow the law," he said.
Cindy Powell, a county resident who has been fighting the sale of the centers, said the zoning board's decision is a step in the right direction.
“We feel very strongly that the health and welfare of the entire community needed to be taken in consideration by the Planning Commission,” she said.
The city's Land Management Code states that the Planning Commission must consider the expected impact on public facilities when considering subdivision of land.
The centers as is provide a vital service to the community, and that service would likely be affected by the subdivision of the land, said Bryan Patchan, zoning board member.
Charles F. Trunk III, the former board of trustees member who filed the appeal, said that the city zoning board's decision was the right thing for Frederick County.
Trunk, who was a member of the zoning board for nine years, said that the city should have stopped the county's incomplete application before it got to the commission.
Powell said she is hopeful that with the zoning board's decision, the county will reconsider the sale.
“This pushes it back and gives the citizens of Frederick County more time to raise their voices and let the Board of County Commissioners know that this is a bad decision,” she said. “And it gives the county commissioners 30 days to do the smart thing and to back away from the deal.”
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