Woodies' mall case is about money, judge says Store fights Nordstrom in Annapolis

January 23, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

Woodward & Lothrop Inc., waging a court battle to keep Annapolis Mall from expanding with Nordstrom and 50 smaller shops, is more interested in money than the environment, a federal judge complained yesterday.

"This case is about money, you know as well as I do," Judge J. Frederick Motz said during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Woodies, which has a store about half a mile away in Parole Plaza, has charged in court documents that officials in Anne Arundel County violated environmental laws by issuing permits for the mall expansion.

Yesterday, the judge sarcastically referred to the department store company as "Greenpeace," international environmental group.

Michigan-based Woodies, which broke off negotiations to move to the mall several years ago, sued County Executive Robert R. Neall and other county and mall officials last July as part of a multi-pronged challenge that has included public appeals for support.

The company charged that the county's failure to require the mall to preserve green space and wetlands, manage storm water drainage and handle traffic-choked roads will worsen a highly congested area, depriving the retailer of its constitutional property rights.

Yesterday, J. Gregory Bishop, Woodies' lawyer, argued county officials conspired with mall developers to make secret deals. The mall donated land for a storm water pond and for use in the county's project to widen Bestgate Road, which runs along the mall's northern border, and the county agreed to count the pond as public open space, he said.

"The developer and the county got together and made the decision behind closed doors about what will count as green area and what won't count," Mr. Bishop said. "There's a bargaining process going on. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."

Stephen M. LeGendre, deputy county attorney, countered that planning officials reviewed mall proposals as they would any others, using their discretion and expert information to judge open space, storm water management and traffic flow. Planners used the growth management ordinance as intended, he said.

John J. Delaney, a lawyer for mall owner Annapolis Mall Limited Partnership, urged the judge to dismiss the suit.

"This is outrageous, what's occurring," he said. "This case is about economic competition. It is improper to use the zoning appeals process to prevent economic competition."

G. Gerard Barnett, Woodies' senior vice president of real estate, said the legal challenge has been unfairly portrayed as a fight of one competitor against another.

"This is not an issue of should it expand or should it not expand," Mr. Barnett said after the hearing. "We're insisting that the expansion be done according to county requirements and county code."

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