Blandair decision appealed to state's highest court

September 15, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Howard County's plans for a 300-acre park in the heart of Columbia went back on hold yesterday as a group opposed to the project decided to appeal a court ruling that had cleared the way for developing the Blandair estate.

The Blandair Foundation filed a petition with the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, seeking to overturn a July Court of Special Appeals ruling. That court threw out a lawsuit that has blocked development of the property for more than three years.

"Some cynics have said to me that the courts will never give our case a fair hearing. In suits like ours, the courts will want to protect Howard County as another part of government," Byron C. Hall of the foundation said in an prepared statement.

"It is our hope that the Maryland Court of Appeals will prove the cynics wrong by giving our case a fair hearing and living up to the standard we have a right to expect."

There is no guarantee that the high court will agree to hear the case. Last year, the court reviewed 19 percent of the civil petitions filed with it, Maria Smiroldo, a spokeswoman for the state judiciary, has said.

When the Court of Special Appeals ruled in their favor in July, county officials expressed hope that the long legal battle was over. Yesterday, they remained optimistic that their proposal to build what would be one of the county's largest parks eventually will prevail.

"I guess the only thing we can say is they have a legal right to do it, but we're still confident that the courts will rule in our favor," said Herman Charity, executive assistant to County Executive James N. Robey.

The property at the center of the dispute belonged to Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith, a reclusive woman who lived alone in a decaying mid-19th-century manor house, fending off developers as Columbia grew up around her. She died in 1997 without a signed will.

Smith's wealthy contractor-father, Henry Smith, bought the property in 1937 for $22,000. He died two years later. His wife, Lillian, died in 1989.

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