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Chesapeake Beach residents challenge ordinance aimed to curb mudslides

Landowners in Chesapeake Beach have alleged a local ordinance limiting new construction near steep slopes, passed over the summer following a series of mudslides, violates their state and federal constitutional rights.

The ordinance, passed July 5, followed “a series of sloughing or sliding events” in the town, including a mudslide that forced the closure of part of the Southern Maryland town’s boardwalk in May.

Two couples, Mark and Laura Baughman and Marcus Farbstein and Rose Marie Hunziker, own land in the affected area and initially filed suit in Calvert County Circuit Court, arguing the “the Ordinance bears no relation to the public health, morals, safety and welfare of the citizens and, as a result, is an unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive restriction on the Plaintiffs’ respective property rights.”

The town removed the lawsuit to federal court Thursday, citing federal question jurisdiction.

The ordinance impacts stormwater systems and construction, reconstruction or demolition. It requires property owners or developers to obtain a “geotechnical global stability analysis” and storm drain discharge and stormwater management plan for lots near steep slopes.

The ordinance states the town determined it would serve the public interest to reduce the risk of property damage and injury by structures built near steep slopes. The council approved the measure in a 4-3 vote, with the mayor breaking the tie.

The complaint calls the ordinance invalid, unconstitutional and unenforceable because it violates the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Constitution as well as the Maryland Declaration of Rights.

The complaint also alleges “several, if not all of the sloughing or sliding events” occurred where the town “caused surface water to flow as part of a stormwater management scheme.” The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment by the court that the ordinance is unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs are represented by Denise M. Bowman and David C. Weigel of Davis, Upton & Palumbo LLC in Prince Frederick. Bowman and Weigel did not respond to a request for comment.

Chesapeake Beach is represented by Michael P. Cunningham of Funk & Bolton P.A. in Baltimore. Cunningham also did not respond to a request for comment.

The case is Mark L. Baughman et al. v. Town Council of Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, 1:18-cv-03052.

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