Judge finds evidence of discrimination against owner in land condemnation

April 06, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County judge said yesterday evidence indicates that the county discriminated against businessman Clarence L. Elder when it sought to condemn his land at Falls and Greenspring Valley roads, and asked for more evidence, including depositions from County Council members.

"While there is smoke, there may not be fire," said Circuit Judge Marshall A. Levin. "I find there has been some evidence of discrimination, but not sufficient at this juncture to find evidence of bad faith."

When the county tried to condemn his 95-acre parcel, Elder countered by charging that the county was discriminating against him because he is black. The ruling yesterday occurred after a recent hearing on motions by both sides.

Baltimore County had asked the judge to rule that it had the right to condemn Elder's tract for parkland, limiting court proceedings to the question of the land's value.

Elder, an entrepreneur and real estate investor who heads the company that owns the land, argued that the condemnation was illegal because it was unnecessary and discriminatory.

Yesterday, Levin denied Elder's request to dismiss the condemnation proceedings. But he ordered Elder's lawyer, Marc Rosen, and County Attorney Virginia Barnhart to obtain depositions from council members and submit additional evidence on the discrimination issue.

Elder has the burden of proving the county acted improperly.

While zoning would allow only two houses to be built on the property, Elder has twice sought zoning changes to permit more intense development.

The county wants to turn the property into a park to address a shortage of recreation facilities in the area. Plans call for four to six ball fields, a parking lot and a concession stand.

Elder's accusations of discrimination are "spurious," Barnhart said in the hearings. "The taking of this property does not have to do with race. This has to do with recreation."

Rosen, however, argued that the county decided to seize the property after his client revealed plans to develop the land for a black church and children's camp.

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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