A decision made Monday by the city of Frederick's Planning Commission should mean that Frederick County can sell the Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living property to a private company that just took over the centers' operations.
But it's really not that simple.
The commission voted unanimously Monday, for the second time now, to grant the county's request to subdivide the property, near Montevue Avenue and Rosemont Lane, so the centers are separate from the rest of the county operations.
The subdivision allows the county to hand over ownership of the centers and land to Aurora Health Management. Aurora took over the facility operations, including staff and finances, on May 1.
But the transfer of the property is complicated by court matters and potential appeals. The subdivision decision, and a question about the deed of the land, are both matters making their way through Circuit Court due to opposition from a resident group.
The residents don't want a private company to take over operations of the centers because when the county ran the centers, the majority of residents it accepted couldn't pay for the service. The residents paid what they could from their income and benefits, and the county covered the rest.
Aurora will accept only those who can pay for service.
Many commission members said Monday that, while they may have other opinions about the sale of the land, the subdivision met all requirements that they could consider for their decision.
Making decisions that are fair, unbiased and based on law sometimes mean making decisions that "say yes to something that we might not like to do," said Alderwoman Kelly Russell.
Kate McConnell, a member of the commission, said the decision was difficult.
"But for me, it's clear what subdivision regulations are, and those are the rules that we follow," she said.
The county realizes that the resident group can now appeal the commission's decision to the city's Zoning Board of Appeals within 30 days, said John Mathias, county attorney.
After all, the group has appealed the same decision before.
The commission heard the subdivision request from the county in spring 2013 and decided to subdivide the land at that time.
In November, the appeals board considered an appeal from residents of the commission's decision and voted to vacate the decision and remand it back to the commission for consideration. That is how the issue made it back to the commission Monday.
Complicating the issue further, the county appealed the Zoning Board of Appeals' November decision to Circuit Court. That case has yet to be heard.
Where it goes from here, "it's completely unclear," but residents plan to fight to the end, said attorney Paul Flynn of Powell Flynn, who is representing the residents.
Residents argue the commission should have considered the negative effect the subdivision, and the sale, would have on public services. The Land Management Code instructs the commission to consider the effect subdivisions will have on the city's adequate public facilities, which includes the care centers, Flynn said.
Mathias argues that that part of the code doesn't apply in this case, but even if it did, he said the sale won't have a negative effect on public facilities.
Mathias said the county commissioners are sensitive to the issue. In the new agreement with Aurora, the county agreed to pay $10.7 million over five years to provide care for the indigent residents who already lived at the centers as of May 1, so they could stay, he said. Also, future elected officials could decide to pay for a certain number of indigent residents to live at the centers.