The owners of the Tall Trees apartment complex in Middle River have filed a $40 million lawsuit against Baltimore County, alleging that the county's method of purchasing their apartments is cheating them out of the value of their properties.
The county's plan to purchase and tear down the 104 apartment buildings at Tall Trees was announced last year as part of a sweeping redevelopment plan for Baltimore County's east side.
County officials say they plan to turn the 55-acre site, an aging complex of privately owned World War II-era apartments, into a park with recreation facilities.
The suit, filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court by the board that represents the property owners, alleges that county officials are driving down the value of the properties by negotiating privately with the owners rather than going through condemnation proceedings in court.
The suit, filed Monday, also alleges that the value of nearby property will fall even more after the county purchases some of the properties, boards them up and demolishes them.
The county should condemn the properties in Baltimore County Circuit Court, which would subject the county offers to court review, the suit says.
County officials declined to comment on the suit yesterday.
Wendy Meredith, who owns 142 apartments in 18 buildings, said yesterday that she has been frustrated because the county has moved slowly on the project. County officials have made offers to purchase her apartments but have not responded to her questions, she said.
County defends approach
Elise Armacost, a county spokeswoman, said county officials have reached agreements to purchase 35 of the 104 buildings and are working to purchase the rest of the properties.
"We have been working aggressively to try to buy these properties," she said. "The notion that there's been no movement is just not true."
The suit also alleges that because county officials will not pay condominium fees for units they purchase, other owners will end up paying more to maintain common areas and to remove trash.
"The county's plan of the acquisition of this property is illegal, unconstitutional and will result in serious financial harm to the individual unit owners," the suit alleges.
The suit seeks $40 million in punitive and compensatory damages on separate counts of conspiracy and civil rights violations.
Some renters leaving
It also seeks a court order that would require the county to pay trash removal and maintenance costs for units they purchase and to file a condemnation petition placing the sales process under Circuit Court review.
Meredith said news of the county's project has prompted some tenants to move out. She said that 17 of her tenants left in May 1999 when county officials announced plans to buy and demolish Tall Trees.
"Last year, it looked like U-haul City with all the people moving out," she said.
"I just keep re-renting the apartments. As they scare people more out, I just re-rent them," she said.