Siena Corp. v. Mayor & City Council of Rockville Maryland (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-185-17, 17 pp.) (J. Harvie Wilkinson III, J.) No. 16-1732; Oct. 13, 2017; USDC at Greenbelt, Md. (Roger Titus, S.J.) 4th Cir.
Holding: Although plaintiff bought land with the intent to build a self-storage facility thereon, it had not even satisfied the planning commission’s conditions for project approval, much less applied for a building permit or commenced construction, when defendants amended their zoning ordinance to prohibit self-storage facilities within 250 feet of a school (as plaintiff’s would have been). Therefore, plaintiff had no protected property interest in building a self-storage facility.
The court affirms the district court’s grant of summary judgment for defendants.
Even if plaintiff had a protected property interest, state deprivation of a protected property interest violates substantive due process only if it is so arbitrary and irrational, so unjustified by any circumstance or governmental interest, as to be literally incapable of avoidance by any pre-deprivation procedural protections or of adequate rectification by any post-deprivation state remedies. The defendant-city council’s zoning amendment was an attempt to protect students – in this case, elementary school students – from the hazards the council believed to be associated with self-storage warehouses, among them the prospect of increased crime, traffic, and illicit drugs. Such concerns fall within the heart of the state’s police power: safeguarding the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare.
We also reject plaintiff’s suggestion that the zoning amendment was an arbitrary action targeted at plaintiff alone. It was rather a general legislative enactment that applied equally to all property zoned light industrial, heavy industrial, mixed-use business, and mixed-use employment.
With regard to plaintiff’s equal protection claim, the court notes that the zoning amendment is rationally related to the state’s interest in protecting schoolchildren. The council could reasonably think that sizeable storage units attract relatively large trucks loaded with multiple items to be stored and driven by drivers unaccustomed to larger loads. Barring the construction of self-storage warehouses near schools helps keep such trucks and traffic away from those schools. It also helps ensure that the many undeniably legitimate uses of self-storage do not serve as a cover for the few who might stash the illegal or hazardous materials that the council wished above all to keep away from students.