A federal judge last week dismissed a developer’s claim that Montgomery County unfairly drained value from 541 acres in Clarksburg.
Pulte Home Corp. and Shiloh Farm Investments LLC alleged they spent nearly $50 million buying up empty land near Ten Mile Creek, west of Interstate 270. They invested another $12 million adding growth potential to the property, hoping they could undertake a major residential building project, according to a judicial opinion issued Aug. 25.
But the land lost much of its potential for development when the county in 2014 approved changes to a growth plan for the area, according to the companies. The U.S. District Court complaint filed by Pulte the same year alleged that the Ten Mile Creek Area Limited Amendment left the company able to develop only 17 percent of the property.
Judge George Hazel found that the county was within its right to pass the land-use changes.
The county argued that the changes were necessary to protect sensitive watersheds west of I-270, and Hazel said it’s not the court’s place to second-guess those decisions.
Attorneys for Pulte and the county could not be reached for comment on Thursday morning.
In his opinion, judge said that while the companies could only build on about 93 acres of the property, the government did not strip all value from the site.
“Plaintiffs have not been deprived of ‘all economically beneficial use’ of its property,” Hazel wrote.
Pulte had demanded $86 million in damages because of the county’s actions undermining its 1,000-home residential project, according to initial case filings.
Among other things, the county placed new restrictions on the amount of paving and other impervious surface in a development, increased the open space requirements and changed the zoning from residential to agricultural classifications. The company also was frustrated in its attempt to gain water and sewer access, the complaint stated.
But Hazel wrote that risk is an inherent part of the development process, and Pulte and Shiloh can’t blame the county for their losses. Pulte knew that any development was “dependent on receiving approval for sewer and water,” the judge wrote. The county did not violate their rights by declining to grant these approvals, he opined.