Updated with editor's note
A hearing about an Elkridge business came to a halt Monday in what officials said reflected a staffing problem in the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ).
On Feb. 6, Brian Wilson, owner of Elkridge Motors, appeared before the Howard County hearing examiner in Ellicott City to defend his right to use part of his property as a parking lot, stating that it was historically used as such.
The DPZ prepared a report, dated Jan. 30, detailing why Wilson was in violation of the acceptable use for his land, which it said did not include using it as a commercial lot.
Thomas Meachum, the lawyer representing community members opposing Wilson, presented photos from the DPZ's report as exhibits.
"I've never seen any of this before," said Wilson.
Many of his clients had obtained copies of the report, according to Meachum, who said that Wilson could have asked for one.
Wilson said he didn't know about the report's existence.
"This seems quite objectionable," said Wilson, of the fact that he said he was never given notice of the report about his property. "This could change my whole approach" [in arguing].
The hearing examiner agreed that a mistake had been made.
“You should have been the first person who got a copy,” Howard County hearing examiner Michele LeFaivre told Wilson.
Ultimately, LeFaivre moved to postpone the hearing.
"Governments make mistakes," she said. "That's why we have these hearings."
She admitted that oversights were not uncommon in this branch of government.
"Given the volume of work and the level of staffing, sometimes these things get mixed up," she said.
Meachum, a Columbia-based attorney specializing in zoning and development, did not appear satisfied by that response.
"You should talk to DPZ about getting their material out," said Meachum, visibly frustrated. "It happens with decisions and orders. It happens with staff reports. They're falling down on the job."
A Howard County spokesman cited hiring freezes as a factor.
“I'm told by the DPZ director that all work gets completed, but sometimes zoning work takes longer than in the past—due to the hiring freezes that have been in place over the past several years,” said Kevin Enright, spokesman for the Howard County government.
After more than 90 minutes of testimony, the hearing about Elkridge Motors came to a standstill. LeFaivre moved to postpone the hearing, despite the DPZ's request to continue it.
LeFaivre assured the approximately 30 people who showed up for the Feb. 6 hearing that the new hearing date would take place in the next two weeks and would not fall on Valentine's Day.
"I did that last year and I never heard the end of it," LeFaivre said.
Editor's Note: The lawyer in the case contacted Elkridge Patch to clarify that his comment that the planning department was "falling down on the job" was said in a satirical tone. As a result, the headline containing that quote has been changed.