Developers' suit against Arundel dropped

Refunds were sought in payments for waivers

October 11, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

In a victory for Anne Arundel County, the state's highest court dismissed yesterday a developers' lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in refunds of money and property they gave the government in exchange for exemptions allowing them to build homes in areas where schools and roads were overburdened.

The unanimous Court of Appeals ruling ends the prospect of the county being ordered to refund what developers claimed was more than $7 million the county collected over more than a decade in deals they said evaded county laws and nearly amounted to extortion.

It also leaves intact the county's practice of accepting payments in exchange for waivers that allow developers to build where public facilities are inadequate. The court did not address the validity of the practice.

"Obviously, we are very pleased at prevailing," said Hamilton F. Tyler, assistant county attorney.

"This was a voluntary agreement they made. They sought the money back after the fact, after they built," he said.

Tyler had argued to the court that if the developers prevailed, they would have circumvented the county's adequate-public facilities law.

John R. Grieber Jr., the attorney for the developers, said he will ask the court to reconsider. After speaking with his clients, he said, he may ask the Supreme Court to hear the case or file a similar complaint in federal court in Baltimore.

The Court of Appeals did not get to issues raised by either Tyler or Grieber in Circuit Court - where the county won on preliminary motions - and at the Court of Special Appeals, which reached the same conclusion as the lower court.

Instead, the state's highest judges on their own raised a defense Tyler alluded to but never made. They said because the developers voluntarily paid, they can't ask for a refund.

Then judges also said the developers should have appealed to Tax Court on the theory that the Tax Court might see the waiver deals as illegal taxes.

Greiber, however, said the court "should have found that it either was or was not a tax." He also said the case was decided in hearings before the developer could present evidence that the payments were not voluntary.

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