Woodward & Lothrop Inc., desperately trying to halt a mall expansion that would bring rival Nordstrom within a mile of its Annapolis store, launched a three-pronged legal attack against mall and government officials yesterday.
In three separate court actions, Woodies stepped up its fight against plans for a Nordstrom department store and 50 smaller shops at Annapolis Mall. Michigan-based Woodies charges that state and Anne Arundel County officials ignored due process and conspired with mall developers to sidestep environmental laws.
To no avail, Woodies has tried to show county officials how the expansion will ruin wetlands, endanger water supplies and increase pollution and traffic, said Woodies' attorney, Neil T. Proto.
"Woodies has been deliberately and blatantly shut out, denied even the slightest modicum of fairness," Mr. Proto said yesterday.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the retailer says Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall and other county officials worked with the mall owner, Annapolis Mall Limited Partnership, to sidestep requirements for adequate green space and proper storm-water drainage. The resulting environmental harm deprives Woodies of its property rights, the suit charges.
"We feel the county has meticulously followed the legal process," responded Louise Hayman, spokeswoman for Mr. Neall. "It's long and complicated, but nevertheless, we've adhered to it."
A second lawsuit, filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, says the state Department of the Environment allowed county workers widening Bestgate Road, which runs behind the mall, to illegally dump debris and polluted soil into the Weems Creek Tributary.
"Woodies' environmental concerns are not confined to the four corners of the Annapolis Mall," Mr. Proto said. "Woodies wants the court to require the county to do precisely what the law requires."
John Goheen, spokesman for the Department of the Environment, said any construction near wetlands falls under the purview of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said he thinks the corps is reviewing the site.
Woodies also appealed a July 8 county Board of Appeals decision dismissing Woodies' challenge of mall development plans.
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.
"People have seen through this charade that Woodies has undertaken," said Rodney D. Haynes, vice president of development for the mall's manager. "Everyone is wrong except Woodies. We find that hard to believe. We're not going to allow their 'issues' to stand in the way."
As industry analysts see it, competition might well be the motive behind a string of lawsuits and appeals Woodies began issuing soon after learning the upscale, Seattle-based Nordstrom would come to the mall.
"The Annapolis Mall virtually is the only game in town; people tend to go to the mall," said Robin Oegerle, director of retail research for Ferris, Baker, Watts Inc., a Washington-based investment company. "Nordstrom would be real competition for Woodies."
Woodies, she said, falls somewhere between a full-service, top-dollar store and a discount outlet and has difficulty competing with either.
"The shopper who wants service in an upscale shop is more likely to go to Nordstrom over Woodies," she said.
"These stores like Woodies have been struggling to compete with the outlet malls. They can't handle any more competition. Period. That's what Nordstrom would do."