Monts' legal disputes at issue

Developer interested in midtown taken to court for 3 D.C. projects

$70 million proposed on 3 sites

April 09, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Developer T. Conrad Monts, viewed by some as a possible savior for the struggling area around Pennsylvania Station, has been involved in several contentious legal disputes in Washington that are now drawing the attention of Baltimore housing officials.

Monts is proposing to put $70 million of offices, apartments and shops on three sites near the station. He is bidding against other developers to lease or buy two of the sites from the city.

Midtown is abuzz - and divided - not only about what Monts, 60, wants to do here, but what he has or hasn't done in the nation's capital. The talk focuses on three matters, all of which have ended up in court. Documents and court records show that:

Monts renovated Washington's City Hall, but a legal dispute with the District Council over space allocation ended only when the District of Columbia paid him $15.7 million to settle dueling lawsuits.

He won the right to build a sprawling mixed-use project near Union Station in the late 1980s, but remains embroiled in a court fight with the district, which sued to take back development rights because nothing was built.

Monts and one of his companies, TDC Management Inc., were ordered by a federal judge last year to pay $1.3 million for misleading the federal government in the 1980s about a program to help minority businesses secure bonding. Monts has filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Baltimore officials say those dealings, especially the $1.3 million fine, will be considered as the city Department of Housing and Community Development seeks the best use for the properties. Officials expect to pick a developer this spring.

"It's certainly a concern that will be part of the overall review process," said JoAnn Copes, Baltimore's assistant housing commissioner for development. "It seemed to me a determination had been made of wrongdoing."

Monts proposes a three-pronged development anchored by the former Railway Express building at 1501 St. Paul St., a property he wants to turn into offices. A block away, he proposes to put up a 50,000-square-foot office building and 48 apartments on a parking lot in the 1700 block of North Calvert St.

He also wants to put a 700-car garage and apartments in the area but needs a site.

Monts, whose Washington Development Group is now based in Annapolis, was reluctant to discuss legal disputes in the District of Columbia, but said that the $70 million City Hall project was done on time and on budget.

His Baltimore proposal should be judged on its own, he said. "I don't think we're asking for anything more than that - to be judged on the merits of what we've proposed."

His lawyer, Stephen L. Braga, said the Washington disputes were the "typical kind of contractual disputes" developers face. Of the fine, he said, the events are not current and "not a good indication of the quality of Mr. Monts' character or his work."

A different view is held by the Washington official who managed renovation of its City Hall, called the John A. Wilson Building. Given the chance to do it over, said Phyllis Jones, secretary to the City Council, "I don't believe we would have used the same developer."

Monts recently got a vote of confidence. University Properties, University of Baltimore's nonprofit real estate and development arm, plans to lease 30-36 W. Biddle St. to his Washington Development Group for a 10-story apartment building.

A local supporter shrugged off Monts' past. "I guess every developer has things like that behind him," said Charles L. Smith, vice president of the Charles North Community Association.

But Carol Higgs, who lives in Greenmount West, between Green Mount Cemetery and Charles North, said: "If this is the kind of record he has in Washington, do we really want to invite that kind of trouble into Baltimore City?"

The city has two other proposals for the Railway Express property: Ronald H. Lipscomb, owner of Doracon Contracting Inc., and former City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge propose offices and artist studios. Developers Thomas and Maria Rafailides, would build 60 luxury condominiums.

The only other bid for the Calvert Street lot - from Washington developers Yeni Wong and Dan Wilkinson - is to build moderately priced apartments and shops.

A look at some of Monts' experiences in Washington reveals lengthy legal disputes.

Monts pleased Washington officials in 1996 when he signed on to renovate the Wilson Building, which the district could not afford to repair, said Jones, the District Council secretary.

Monts offered to restore the building at no cost to the district if he could lease two-thirds of it to the federal government. The council agreed.

In 1998, the district sued Monts, saying he was reserving too much space for the federal government at the district's expense. "We believed the developer did not live up to his agreements with the council," Jones said, "specifically on the amount of space the council would have reserved in the building."

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