Land OK'd for rec use

Judge says Balto. Co. may seize Falls Road parcel for ball fields

Racial bias not proved

Owner-developer to be paid $1.5 million, says he will appeal

June 15, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge cleared the way yesterday for the county to seize 95 acres at the entrance to Green Spring Valley -- a move that would halt development plans and preserve the land as a park.

Judge Marshall A. Levin said the county showed it needs the land for recreation and the owner failed to prove allegations that the county wants his land because he is black.

County officials said after the hearing that they would move within 24 hours to take the Meadowood property at Greenspring Valley and Falls roads by paying $1.5 million that a court-appointed appraiser said the land was worth.

Clarence Elder, an entrepreneur and real estate investor who heads the company that owns the land, said he would appeal the ruling. "I wish I never had to talk about racism. I wish it didn't exist. But it does," he said.

"The county is very pleased the judge has let the county get possession of the property and found Mr. Elder's allegations are totally false," said county spokesman Michael H. Davis.

A hearing is scheduled for this summer to determine the value of the land. In the meantime, the county will pay the amount set by a court appraiser.

"We are anxious to get started," Davis said. "This is going to be an incredibly nice facility."

The county, which has a shortage of recreational facilities, intends to build six to eight athletic fields on the site, which sits opposite one of the most contested corners in Baltimore County.

While residents want to stave off more development in the area, the owners of the Green Spring Station office and retail complex and the Greenspring Racquet Club across Falls Road are pressing for new projects.

"Obviously, we're relieved the county has the ability to go ahead with a park," said Jack Dillon, director of the Valleys Planning Council, which lobbied the county to protect the land from development. "We think this is going to stabilize that corner."

Seizing the property now allows the county to start environmental and engineering studies needed for the park plans to proceed, said John F. Weber III, director of the county's Department of Recreation and Parks.

But Elder, who owns a stake in Baltimore's cable franchise, said he was angry that the judge ruled the county needed his land even though the county hasn't done studies to determine whether the land is suitable for its recreational plans.

Elder tried several times to develop the tract, but was unable to persuade county officials to change zoning on the property that permitted only two houses. Most recently, he proposed offering his land for a church or children's camp.

If the Maryland Court of Special Appeals finds the county seized the land illegally, it would have to return the property to Elder and pay his court costs.

However, if the court upholds the Circuit Court judge's ruling, the only question remaining is how much the property is worth. Elder, who said he did not want to sell the land, said it is worth more than the $1.5 million appraised value the county said it would pay.

If the Circuit Court determines the property is worth more than the appraised value, the county would have to pay the additional amount. If it finds it is worth less, the county would be reimbursed the difference.

But Elder said taking the property for parkland brings into question the property rights of all land owners.

Pub Date: 6/15/99

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