Assurances sought over developers' past

Annapolis hospital criticized for failure to scrutinize choic

January 26, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford and Andrea F. Siegel | Amanda J. Crawford and Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Stunned that Anne Arundel Medical Center officials did not know the background of the people they chose to redevelop the prime Annapolis property the hospital will vacate this fall, city residents and officials demanded assurances yesterday that the developers' past construction problems will not be repeated at Acton's Landing.

Residents called for public forums with Madison Homes and hospital officials in the wake of disclosures yesterday in The Sun of multimillion-dollar lawsuits and other difficulties faced by the company's key players, Milton Schneiderman and Russell S. Rosenberger Jr.

The Acton's Landing project is the first major residential development in the city's historic district in decades.

One community group, the Murray Hill Residents Association, said it was trying to schedule a meeting next week with Madison Homes, one of its financial backers and hospital officials.

"Certainly there are many serious concerns that need to be addressed," said Sandy Hillyer, the association's president.

Hillyer said he would reserve judgment on the company but was disappointed that the hospital didn't thoroughly check the developers' past.

"In a way, I think the hospital may have let us all down by not being more forthcoming with what it knew with the community," he said.

Hospital officials had told The Sun that they were largely unaware of a history that includes construction flaws, lawsuits and other problems until questioned by reporters.

"We selected Madison Homes in 1999 based on information we had at the time," hospital spokeswoman Mary Lou Baker said yesterday. "We have a contract with Madison Homes, and Madison Homes is moving forward.

"That is all the hospital will say on this matter at this time."

Rosenberger and Schneiderman said in The Sun's article that they had learned from their mistakes and called past problems "irrelevant" because a different corporate entity, the Milton Co., was involved.

Neither they nor their attorney would comment after meeting yesterday with Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson.

Before the meeting, Johnson said he "was totally caught off guard" by the developers' record, adding that a thorough background check by the hospital "to me would have been so basic."

Johnson said he trusts the city's building inspection process, which he called "very rigorous," and said after his meeting with Rosenberger and Schneiderman that he had more confidence in them "because you are looking in their eyes and measuring them as individuals."

In the past week, Rosenberger and Schneiderman began contacting city officials and residents to seek support after The Sun questioned the developers and hospital officials about their record.

W. Minor Carter, president of the Ward One Residents Association, was one of the people the developers met with in anticipation of yesterday's article.

"Milton Schneiderman showed me an e-mail from the hospital about this, prompted by the questions from The Sun. It said, `Is there anything else we should know?'" Carter said. "That, to me, doesn't qualify as due diligence."

Carter blasted the hospital, saying it failed to scrutinize the developers.

"Don't they have any responsibility to the community at all?" he asked. "I hope they don't screen their doctors in this fashion."

He said the hospital and its volunteer board, which includes bankers, business people and community leaders, owe the city and its residents a public forum "to assure us why this project should go forward."

The 4.5-acre site sits in the most affluent part of the city. Many in the community said they generally like Madison Homes' plan for 130 condominium apartments, townhouses and single-family homes and credit Rosenberger and Schneiderman for attempting to work with the community. But others have complained that they want fewer homes and that the development will not mesh with the neighborhood.

ALARM, a coalition that has opposed various aspects of the Acton's Landing plan, hopes to meet within the next 10 days to consider its next move.

"The biggest question right now is what action will the hospital take," said William Kardash, a leader of ALARM, which stands for Acton's Landing Area Residents Monitor. "Somebody dropped the ball."

Alderman Ellen O. Moyer called the redevelopment the hospital's "legacy" to downtown Annapolis. She said the medical center did not live up to its responsibility to ensure a top-quality development on a property she calls one of the most coveted in the country.

"The hospital moved out of town to build a facility that they like to think of as one of the best," Moyer said. "It believes in perfection and it believes in excellence. They shouldn't have expected something less in town than they expect out of town. We need the very best people with an absolutely excellent track record."

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