Woodward & Lothrop Inc. will sue the county, state and federal governments unless officials correct alleged environmental violations in Annapolis' Bestgate Road reconstruction, the retailer notified the county yesterday.
Woodies, embroiled in a related public squabble over Annapolis Mall's plans to add a Nordstrom department store and 45 smaller stores, said that widening of the road -- which runs behind the mall -- is polluting a Weems Creek tributary.
Neil T. Proto, Woodies' attorney, said a notice to county, state and federal agencies allows the retailer to file a suit under the federal Clean Water Act after 60 days if agencies fail to enforce the law.
Proto said because the county failed to obtain permits allowing discharge into Weems Creek tributaries and wetlands, the state Department of the Environment has failed to administer the federal law and the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to enforce it.
County officials had not had time to review Woodies' notice, but Louise Hayman, spokeswoman for County Executive Robert R. Neall, said, "We're confident we've met the letter of the law."
John Goheen, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, could not determine yesterday whether the county had obtained the proper permit from the state.
Since 1983, the county has planned to widen Bestgate Road from one lane each way to two lanes each way, to improve safety and accommodate a Rowe Boulevard extension. So far, officials have built storm water management ponds and begun grading.
Woodies officials say they're challenging mall expansion -- and the Bestgate project -- for environmental and technical reasons. The county and mall owners Annapolis Mall Limited Partnership agreed last October that the mall would donate land for the road widening.
"If you're the county, being given land so you can make improvements, what's the likelihood when the mall comes before you and seeks expansion that you'll say no?" Proto said. "Our complaint is that rendered the review process a sham."
Rodney Haynes, vice president of development for the mall's manager, said the lawsuit threat is nothing more than another in a string of tactics and appeals to stop mall expansion.
"They will use each and every means available, raising every issue regardless of substance," he said. "We understand the real motive is to stop Nordstrom from coming to Annapolis Mall. We don't intend to let Woodies stop expansion of the mall for competitive reasons."
Woodies, which negotiated for more than three years to move into the mall and learned a year ago expansion would exclude Woodies and include Nordstrom, said yesterday in a statement that "a concerted effort has been made to create the perception that Woodies is opposed to the location of a Nordstrom store at the mall. Nothing could be further from the truth. Woodies happily coexists with Nordstrom at the Tysons Corner and Montgomery Mall shopping centers and was planning the same at the expanded Annapolis Mall.
"Woodies is concerned about a concerted plan to limit consumers' retail options to a single location and to ignore the adverse environmental consequences of that plan for neighboring citizens and businesses, including its own," the statement continued.
Woodies has since signed a 20-year commitment at its current store at Parole Plaza.