2 views of offer from builder Dispute over $100,000 stems from planned development of farm

August 11, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Stewart J. Greenebaum and Thomas Dernoga agree that there was an offer of $100,000 on the table. But they disagree about what it could have been used for.

Greenebaum, the developer behind a proposal to build a 1,168-home mixed-use village on what is locally known as the Iager farm in Fulton, says he offered the money to community groups so they could sue him if he violated any of his agreements.

But Dernoga, who represents two area civic associations concerned about the project, says the money was offered to his clients with no strings attached -- and with a suggestion that it be used to fight other developers moving in, potential competition for Greenebaum.

Both men say the issue is moot because the civic associations rejected a 15-point agreement last month, denying the project quick Zoning Board approval and putting it in limbo until after the November elections. But the dispute over the $100,000 offer could be costly if it injects bad blood between the two sides. For now, both men say they harbor no ill will.

"I'm not angry at them," Greenebaum, president of Greenebaum & Rose Associates in Garrison in Baltimore County, says of the community groups that dispute his version of events. "We couldn't reach an agreement and that's OK."

Says Dernoga, a Prince George's County attorney well-versed in land-use fights: "I thought that these were real good negotiations. We're no worse off than we were before."

Both sides can agree on the basic facts of the case:

Greenebaum wants to build the mixed-use complex on farmland near the northwest corner of the intersection of U.S. 29 and Route 216.

To persuade the Zoning Board to approve a preliminary development plan -- the first stage in the building process -- Greenebaum pledged to obtain the blessing of the community, especially members of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association and the Cherrytree Farms Neighborhood Organization.

More than six weeks of negotiations between Dernoga, who represents the two civic associations, and Greenebaum and his lawyer, Richard B. Talkin, ended last month when about 90 percent of homeowners from both communities rejected a 15-point agreement.

A verdict on the project has been delayed until after a new County Council, whose members make up the Zoning Board, is elected this November.

The primary issue was coordinating the building of the development with planned improvements to Route 216 at U.S. 29.

The $100,000 had little influence, says Harry Brodie, secretary of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association.

"It wasn't an important point in our deliberations," he says. "I don't think we discussed it very much, if at all."

But the circumstances surrounding the proposal have sparked much debate.

According to interviews with Dernoga and Greenebaum, they and Talkin met in his Columbia office June 3, two days after the Planning Board endorsed the developer's preliminary development plan.

For about three hours, discussions ranged from how much housing would be designated for senior citizens to what efforts the developer was making to buy adjacent properties.

One of those issues was the $100,000 offer. According to Dernoga's handwritten notes, the point involved "concern w/ [with] rezoning of surrounding issues."

Underneath that notation are the words "Significant amount [of] $ for landuse matters."

Dernoga says that Greenebaum agreed to use the money to create a Citizen Land Use Fund that would be released within 30 days of Planning Board approval of a comprehensive sketch plan of the project.

"It was stipulated that the money would go into a fund that the citizens would control and would use for land-use matters," Dernoga says. "Some residents thought that the money could be used for anything."

That's the impression Peter J. Oswald says he came away with.

"This was money -- in my mind -- that would have been given to the community to be used at our discretion," says the former president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association, who envisioned using the money to fund an appeal of county approval of the Rouse Co.'s nearby 1,201-unit mixed-use center on 507 acres in North Laurel. "It would have been less valuable if we could only use it to enforce the agreement."

But Greenebaum adamantly denies such claims.

"It was not to be used so that they would go running around the countryside fighting zoning," he says. "If they want to fight some other zoning [case], that's their business, but I'm not supplying the ammo."

Greenebaum contends that he restricted the purpose of the fund to pay for their legal fees if he or a future developer who was to complete the mixed-use village attempted to violate the agreement with the community.

Greenebaum says the money was offered in response to residents' queries that the developer would live up to his end of the deal.

"I said to them, 'I'll do what we've done in the past,' " Greenebaum says, noting that he established a similar fund of $25,000 for homeowners in Shipley's Choice in Millersville in Anne Arundel County. " 'I'll give you money so that if we violate the covenant, you can sue us, but I don't think you need it.' "

Greenebaum says Dernoga later asked for more money -- Dernoga confirms this -- but Greenebaum says he refused.

Dernoga and Greenebaum say they would like to put the monetary issue behind them and focus on future negotiations.

But Greenebaum hedges on any commitment to make another monetary offer. "We will always talk to them and try to find mutual ground, but I don't know," he says. "Something tells me that if we couldn't find common ground now, we might not find common ground in the future."

Says Dernoga: "I thought it was a fair process, and I don't want to discourage that."

Pub Date: 8/11/98

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