Developer stays out of public debate Halle's effort to open rubble landfill could be decided tomorrow

He keeps a low profile

He attends, but doesn't speak at, planning hearings

November 16, 1997|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

West County developer Warren E. Halle wants things his way, even if that means waiting out lengthy court battles.

The developer of Seven Oaks and owner of a significant chunk of Odenton's town center has been locked in legal disputes for nearly a decade over a rubble landfill he wants to open in a more rural part of Odenton.

The latest round in the dispute has dozens of West County residents packing County Council meetings to oppose the landfill proposal and council members proclaiming their legislative prerogative as they seemingly disobey a judge's order to include the proposal in the county's long-term solid waste plan.

Meanwhile, Halle has been content to observe the proceedings silently from the rear of council chambers, counting on Maryland's second highest court to settle the matter.

The lengthy court battle and Halles' reticence in public are a familiar pattern for the businessman who spearheaded one of the largest residential developments in the county and whose projects here span the administrations of three county executives.

Though Halle and his projects have been a fixture in the county since at least the 1980s, few community leaders, fellow developers or elected officials know him personally.

He did not respond to repeated requests for an interview for this article made through his attorney, Steven P. Resnick, and did not return a call to his headquarters in Silver Spring. Neither Halle nor Resnick respond to questions submitted in writing.

The Potomac resident has attended County Council meetings and hearings at which his proposed landfill is at issue, but he steadfastly refuses to speak. Resnick said he has advised his client not to talk to reporters.

"He shows up at meetings, but he doesn't really interact," said Glenn Akers, president of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association (GOIA). Akers, like many active in West County, has dealt mostly with Halle's associate, Stephen N. Fleischman, vice president of Halle Cos. and the company representative on the Odenton Town Plan committee.

Landfill troubles

Councilman Bert L. Rice, whose district includes the landfill site and Seven Oaks, said he had "a cordial and nice" meeting with Halle over coffee at Rick's Cafe in Odenton in 1995, but he still doesn't think he knows the developer personally.

"Any dealings I've had with him were usually through lawyers," said Rice, referring to court disputes several years ago between West County civic associations and Halle over the landfill.

Rice, a rubble fill opponent in his days with GOIA, last month sponsored the amendment to remove the rubble fill proposal from the Solid Waste Master Plan. The landfill cannot get a permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment if it is not included in the county's plan.

The council is expected to vote tomorrow on that plan. Despite his low profile, many in the community have an opinion of Halle, and, friend or foe, most people refer to him by his nickname, "Cookie."

Reputation for tenacity

"The boy doesn't give up, I will say that," said former business partner and fellow developer W. Calvin Gray Jr.

Gray of Severna Park last worked with Halle to develop a subdivision called Aisquith Farm off Riva Road, south of Annapolis. Halle ended up in court over the deal when Gray and Ernest J. Litty Jr. sued Halle, claiming he reneged on an agreement to pay them $1.2 million to buy them out of the project. Halle disputed the claim to the Court of Special Appeals, but lost in 1995 and paid Gray and Litty.

A gracious winner, Gray followed the advice of his mother: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

"I've got to give him an A for tenacity," Gray said with a chuckle during a phone interview recently. "He's a hard-charging guy and wants to try to make things happen."

Gray met Halle in the 1970s in Ocean City, where both families had vacation homes. Halle, 57, lives with his wife, Martha, 58, in Potomac in Montgomery County.

Legal dealings

In 1984 and 1985, the Halles paid $29 million for 1,100 acres in Fairfax County, Va., which would become Kingstowne, a development with 6,000 homes planned. Later, in the midst of construction there, the Halles ended up in U.S. Tax Court in a dispute over a payment in the original purchase, which they wanted to deduct as interest on debt. The Halles won the right to deduct $900,000 as interest in 1996 after appealing the case to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., according to court documents.

Almost at the same time that the Kingstowne development moved forward, Halle began Seven Oaks off Route 175 in Odenton. But soon that project, too, landed Halle in a dispute when the county claimed the developer owed more than $420,000 in water- and sewer-connection fees and school-construction fees for the planned 4,700- home community.

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