Omni House Testifies Delay Is Costly

May 29, 1991|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

BALTIMORE — By refusing to sell 12 condominiums to Omni House, a Glen Burnie developer is costing the rehabilitation program for the mentally ill more than $8,000 in lost fees, housing subsidies and expenses every two months, its finance director testified yesterday.

John F. Cuddy, chief accountant and financial director for Omni House, predicted thateven a two-month delay in moving 24 clients into the condominiums would prove expensive. But he didn't put a price on the biggest loss toOmni House -- its hopes of building a better life for people branded"crazy" and banished to mental institutions.

Omni House has sued developer Frank J. Scott and his company, Cromwell Fountain Associates, charging they violated fair housing laws by abruptly canceling a sales contract for the condominiums in April.

Witnesses in the housing discrimination trial concluded their testimony yesterday. At the end of the hourlong hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis said he would write an opinion giving his ruling by Monday.

"I think there's a great public need for a (speedy) decision," he said during an interview after the trial, which began as a hearing in early May.

Omni House went to court May 8 to prevent Cromwell from selling the disputed condominiums. Garbis granteda preliminary injunction barring the company from finding another buyer and turned the 4 1/2-hour hearing into a trial because so much testimony had been presented.

James G., a 27-year-old patient at Crownsville Hospital Center who filed suit with Omni House, listened intently both days as the attorneys argued over his future. After spending nearly two years in an institution, the patient said, he wants a chance to move into a real home.

He was ready to move into the modern, 900-unit condominium complex under construction by Cromwell off Ordnance Road.

But Omni House's deal to buy 12 units with a state grant unraveled after homeowners signed petitions and deluged lawmakers with calls protesting the sale.

Cromwell representatives maintained they pulled out because of financial concerns. They blamed Omni House for failing to provide proof that it had lined up $1.4 million in government grants and loans.

Two state officials testified yesterday that they sent letters to Cromwell in early April promising the money would be put in escrow until the condominiums were built.

Cromwell's attorney, James C. Praley, argued the letters were sent onlyafter the developer said he couldn't wait any longer for government reassurances.

Early in the trial, Garbis questioned the financial defense, asking why the developer was willing to build condominiums for Omni House at another site. If Scott was so worried about the money, Garbis asked, why would he agree to build the same homes elsewhere?

Under the judge's questioning, Cromwell representatives admittedthey feared the project would become "commercial" when they read a newspaper account calling the Omni House clients "severely" mentally ill.

Both the words "severely" and "chronically" are used to describe mentally ill patients who suffer from long-term problems, such as schizophrenia or manic depression.

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