An applicant must satisfy the unwarranted hardship standard to be granted a variance; the variance must have no adverse impact on the environment and conform to the purpose of the critical area program.

By:  Michael Louis Brown

     The Court of Appeals of Maryland held that the Worchester County Board properly applied the “unwarranted hardship” standard and correctly granted a variance under local critical area law.  Assateague Coastal Trust, Inc. v. Schwalbach, 448 Md. 112, 140, 136 A.3d 866, 882 (2016).  The court held that the variance would not have an adverse impact on the environment and the development was in conformity with the Critical Area Program’s purpose and intent.  Schwalbach, 448 Md. at 143-44, 136 A.3d at 883.

     Roy T. Schwalbach (“Schwalbach”) owned waterfront property in a community where piers and boating were common.  In order to reach navigable water next to his property, Schwalbach sought a variance from a Worcester County ordinance that limited the length of piers to 100 feet.  The variance was granted by the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals (the “Board”).  In a written decision, the Board determined that Schwalbach would not be able to reach navigable water without the variance.  Furthermore, the Board noted that the environmental impact would be mitigated, because Schwalbach’s permits were issued under the condition that he would fulfill specific planting requirements.