Jury awards $4.3 million to landowner

Green Spring Valley site targeted for parkland

man says price too low

March 02, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County jury awarded $4.3 million to an Owings Mills businessman yesterday as payment for 96 acres condemned by the county for parkland in Green Spring Valley.

Clarence L. Elder said he remains convinced that the tract at Greenspring Valley and Falls roads -- which serves as a gateway to one of the area's most exclusive communities -- is worth $11.3 million, the price recommended by his appraiser.

"I have to say I'm disappointed," said Elder, who purchased the tract in 1990 for $1.85 million. "I got a return on my investment. But the object here was to get fairness, and we did not get fairness."

Assistant County Attorney James Nolan also was disappointed. He said the county's offer of $2.4 million was a fair price.

Nolan said the county's appraisal was based on comparable real estate sales in the area and the fact that only two houses could be built on Elder's tract, which is zoned rural. "I think the evidence more than supported our appraiser's estimate," Nolan said.

The county won court approval in 1999 to condemn the site and begin installing $3.5 million worth of pavilions, trails and lighted athletic fields. The sole issue for the jury during a three-day trial before Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr. was determining a fair price.

Jurors deliberated about three hours, and they declined to comment after reaching their verdict yesterday.

Marc Rosen and Dale Zeitlin, Elder's lawyers, told jurors this week that the county initially approached Elder in 1998 with a sternly worded letter offering $885,000 for the tract and threatening condemnation if he refused.

Elder testified that he hoped to build shops and offices when he purchased the tract and never wanted to sell to the county. Under cross-examination, he testified that he tried to develop the tract in 1992 and 1996 but was unable to win the necessary zoning changes.

Elder later hoped to sell to a private school for athletic fields and was discussing his plans with county officials when they threatened condemnation.

The son of a Georgia sharecropper and a self-described entrepreneur, Elder fought a legal battle in 1990 with United Cable over minority set-asides that won him and a partner an out-of-court settlement worth at least $50 million.

After yesterday's verdict, Elder said that he considered the tract a source of pride for what African-Americans can achieve. He also said that he feels the county targeted him because of his race.

"They never tried to take it away from any of the previous owners. In other areas where the county tried to condemn and the owner objected, the county backed off," he said.

County officials say that race had nothing to do with the decision to condemn Elder's land. They say the site was a perfect location for a badly needed regional park and that the land was condemned because Elder flatly refused their offers.

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