Byrne v. Maryland Realty Co. and the Elimination of Aesthetic Zoning in Maryland
Robert James Burriesci
University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
Today's familiar cry of "Not in my backyard!" is not new to property owners. In 1915 the familiar cry was raised by a number of homeowners and building associations as they fought to prevent a developer from constructing rowhomes in northwest Baltimore.
On May 12, 1915, an opportunity for building developers arose to challenge the limits of acceptable building restrictions in Baltimore with the filing of a permit to build in a restricted area. In a time when cottage style homes were in vogue and suburbanization was the high style, the residents of Forest Park, Baltimore saw the filing of this permit to build a group of rowhomes in their neighborhood as an invasion, an eyesore, and the antithesis of everything they had striven for as a community. For these residents, the sanctity of their quiet suburban cottage community was about to be destroyed solely to meet a growing need for housing. The residents feared the urbanization of their quiet community. The residents of Forest Park were able to breathe a temporary sigh of relief when on May 14, 1915, Mr. Clarence Stubbs, Inspector of Buildings, rejected the application for the permit to build. However, this was only a stay of execution for their cottage community. In less than one year, the idea that a community could shape itself through building type restrictions would disappear.
The rationale behind the disagreement between the city with the residents of Forest Park and the Maryland Realty Co. may have been simply due to an overwhelming interest in preserving the continuity of the community and retaining the suburban quality of the area. However, a discriminatory intention may have underpinned the arguments of the residents and the city in favor of preserving the ordinance barring rowhomes in Forest Park.
Byrne was not a case about discrimination, but rather, a case of perceived societal improvement through the restriction of the use of land using aesthetics as the key limiting factor. Byrne was about the tension between the owner's property rights and the power of the city to control development. At its most basic, Byrne was a case of dollars and cents, the value of the property to the residents of the quiet suburban community weighed against that individual right of the developer to do whatever he wished with his property.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 36
Keywords: Rowhome, Row home, Zoning Aesthetic, Byrne, Forest Park, Baltimore
Date posted: September 2, 2004