Stadium argument is back in court

Group contends Memorial's status as landmark unclear

March 07, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm and Gail Gibson | Jamie Stiehm and Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Activists who want to save Memorial Stadium from the wrecking ball said in court papers filed yesterday that federal authorities acted improperly when they awarded $5 million for a housing project at the site without determining whether it was eligible for historic preservation.

Demolition opponents are expected to ask a federal judge this morning to halt destruction of the North Baltimore landmark until housing officials get a clear ruling on whether the stadium could be included on the National Register of Historic Places.

This morning's hearing, scheduled before U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis, is the second legal effort in less than a week by Preservation Maryland and neighbors seeking to block the stadium's demolition, which would clear the way for senior housing and a YMCA.

Work has continued at the site after a Baltimore circuit judge refused on Friday opponents' request for a temporary restraining order until the end of this week, when a city administrative hearing is scheduled on the legality of the demolition permit.

At issue now in federal court are conflicting opinions by state and city planners about whether the stadium is eligible to be designated as a historic site.

The Maryland Historic Trust determined last year that the stadium was not eligible for the register, but the city Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation concluded that the structure did meet the criteria, according to papers filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Preservationists argue that officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development were obligated by federal law to seek a final determination on the matter from the National Park Service - but that never happened.

"HUD apparently decided to ignore the conflict in views between the two agencies and proceed ahead as if the conflict did not exist," John C. Murphy, a Baltimore attorney representing Preservation Maryland, said in court papers.

Officials with Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., the church-based nonprofit organization selected by the city in 1999 to develop the site, were undaunted.

Julia S. Pierson, GEDCO's executive director, said the Stadium Place development would continue without the $5.2 million HUD grant - by far the greatest source of money for the project. Other funding would come from tax credits, fund-raising efforts and market-rate housing in the mixed-income development, she said.

The new court action takes place despite a compromise reached last week that would preserve the war memorial wall for which the stadium was named.

Demolition crews continued work at the site yesterday, tearing down the stadium bleachers.

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