Federal Judges Side with Rockville Officials in Case Over Thwarted Proposal for Self-Storage Facility

Suit faulted city for barring self-storage sites near public schools


Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton (file photo)

Aaron Kraut

Three federal judges have ruled against property owners who sued the Rockville City Council over a zoning change that blocked their plans to build a self-storage facility.

Siena Corp. and Rockville North Land LLLP claimed council members violated their constitutional rights by passing a zoning text amendment prohibiting the storage sites within 250 feet of a public school. The council’s decision derailed the companies’ plan to construct an ezStorage facility at 1175 Taft St., just down the block from Maryvale Elementary School.

However, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, joined by Judge Paul V. Niemeyer and Judge Raymond A. Jackson, ruled last week that council members were well within their rights to limit storage sites.

“While Siena obviously does not relish the result, displeasure with state democratic outcomes does not ordinarily rise to the level of a federal constitutional violation,” Wilkinson wrote in his opinion.

Council members passed the zoning text amendment after parents and residents objected to putting an ezStorage so close to Maryvale. Some people were worried that non-professional truck drivers would be steering large U-Hauls on and off the property, near where young students cross the street on their way to school.

Other residents feared that people would keep hazardous or illicit materials at the site, with one person referencing the 2014 report about a former funeral director storing 12 bodies in a unit outside Boston.

The plaintiffs in the case accused citizens of conducting a “propaganda and smear campaign” against Siena and charged council members with improperly aiding the residents. The zoning change was approved in 2015 by a 3-2 vote, with Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Council members Beryl Feinberg and Virginia Onley supporting the decision. Council members Tom Moore and Julie Palakovich Carr were opposed.

The city’s lawyers argued that Siena didn’t have standing to sue over the zoning change, largely because it hadn’t gotten building permits for the project or started construction.

Wilkinson agreed and also wrote that the courts are reluctant to second-guess local land-use decisions. The council members determined that their zoning change was in the best interests of city residents, and while their decision stemmed from the ezStorage proposal, it did not unfairly target Siena, he wrote.

“What matters is that the zoning text amendment applied to all developers—both present and future—who might entertain plans similar to Siena’s,” the judge wrote.

Wilkinson and the other two judges on the panel affirmed a lower judge’s decision to dismiss the case.

An attorney for the plaintiffs declined to comment on whether the companies would appeal the decision.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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