Woodward & Lothrop Inc. failed yesterday in its latest effort to stop an Annapolis Mall expansion that will add a Nordstrom department store, though Woodies officials insisted the fight is not over.
The Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals dismissed Woodies' challenge of mall development plans, which also include 45 smaller stores.
After the 6-1 vote, a crowd of Nordstrom fans in matching "Nordstrom, Annapolis Mall" T-shirts applauded and cheered before board Chairwoman Barbara Hale reprimanded them for the outburst. A group of Woodies employees wearing Woodies visors, some of whom said they feared losing their jobs if the retailer lost the appeal, sat quietly.
Mall officials say Woodies merely wants to block rival Nordstrom, which plans to open next year, because Woodies failed to strike a deal with them to move to the mall.
But a Woodies attorney told the board the 28-year-old Parole Plaza store, about a half-mile from the mall, has a long-term financial stake in a community that will suffer increased traffic, polluted groundwater and loss of green space from the expansion.
A larger mall will have an "enormous and direct impact on Woodies' ability to attract its patrons and customer base," said Woodies' attorney John Lewin, adding that it will push traffic levels way above acceptable levels. "People won't use the roadways or they'll start out and become defeated and give up."
Kathryn J. Dahl, attorney for Annapolis Mall Limited Partnership, the mall's owner, had urged the board to drop the case, arguing that Woodies never showed how expansion would hurt its store. Woodies could not legally file an appeal, she said, because the chain has a store only one mile from the mall, and because expansion would not harm Woodies any more than the public in general.
"How does Woodward & Lothrop, a Michigan corporation with offices in Virginia, have standing to file an appeal in this case?" she asked. "That's a mystery."
By refusing to let Woodies' witnesses testify, the board never gave the retailer a chance to prove it had the legal right, Woodies' attorney Neil T. Proto said.
"This is another failure to look at the merits of the expansion," said Mr. Proto, adding he would likely appeal the decision to county Circuit Court. "For reasons we find inexplicable, no county entity wants to expose the problems associated with this expansion."
Some Woodies employees, who said they volunteered to attend the hearing to back the store, said they feared the community might lose a good business.
"We're behind Woodies. We're with Woodies," said Karin Baumgartner, a seven-year cosmetics department employee and 20-year customer of the store. "We want them to stay. They've served Annapolis for quite a while."
Another employee, Arlita Quinn, said she feared mall expansion would pave the way for office development in Parole Plaza, forcing Woodies out of business and some 200 employees out of jobs.
But Nordstrom supporter Judy Phillips, who lives five miles from the mall, said she doesn't believe the mall should be singled out for increasing traffic and pollution in an area where no one has challenged other commercial developments. Ms. Phillips disagreed the expansion would hurt Woodies.
"The larger variety in the community, the more interesting the shopping is," she said.
Woodies had unsuccessfully charged the mall's firm, Linowes & Blocher, with a conflict of interest for representing both Woodies and the mall. A Circuit Court judge denied that claim Tuesday. The retailer also has appealed state permits and threatened the county, state and federal governments with lawsuits.
Woodies and mall officials negotiated for about three years to bring a new, larger Woodies store to the mall. After talks broke off, Woodies was told that Nordstrom would come to the mall instead.