Federal judge nixes Woodies' mall challenge But retailer says 'Justice not served'

February 19, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

A federal judge in Baltimore rejected Woodward & Lothrop Inc.'s bid to stop an Annapolis Mall expansion yesterday, saying the retailer mounted its fight only because it feared losing money.

In his written decision, Judge J. Frederick Motz dismissed a Woodies suit that charged Anne Arundel County officials with violating environmental laws and the 14th Amendment by issuing permits for the mall to add a Nordstrom and 50 shops.

The retailer can't stop the mall's plans by contending such an expansion would lower the property value of Woodies' store a half-mile from the mall, Judge Motz wrote.

"W&L is merely a resident in a geographical area in which another property owner is seeking regulatory approvals for development of its property," he wrote. The law does not allow BTC one property owner to prevent development of another person's land "merely because that use may adversely affect the market value of his own property."

The judge also noted that precedent strongly discourages federal courts from interfering in local land-use matters and that county officials have discretion to decide whether a project meets environmental laws.

Woodies attorney Neil T. Proto, who did not indicate whether the retailer would appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, issued a statement yesterday saying the court's decision failed to address the merits of Woodies' complaints.

"There has been no review of this project," Mr. Proto's statement said. "Justice has still not been served."

Woodies' attorneys argued in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Jan. 22 that the county failed to require the mall to preserve green space and wetlands, manage storm water drainage and handle traffic-choked roads. Those failures, they argued, will worsen a highly congested area and deprive the retailer of its constitutional property rights.

Woodies has been waging an as-yet unsuccessful battle against mall plans for nearly a year, filing appeals and suits on environmental and traffic-related grounds at county, state and federal levels.

During a separate Circuit Court hearing this month on a pending appeal, a Woodies attorney challenged assertions the retailer has been fighting mall expansion for purely competitive reasons. Attorney John H. Lewin Jr. said Woodies welcomes expansion, provided the roads will handle increased traffic. Heavy traffic on insufficient roads, however, will jeopardize Woodies' store, he said.

Yesterday's decision, which comes as construction continues at the mall, shows that "the emperor has no clothes," a mall official said.

"They can say all they want [that] it's not about competition, but everyone else has seen that it is," said Rodney D. Haynes, vice president of development for the mall's manager.

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