The state argues that the repurchase agreement is invalid because it did not contain an expiration date, as required by state law. It argues that the Maryland Transit Administration, which bought the property for $1 in 1997 from the State Highway Administration, is not bound by the agreement. And it says the land cannot be declared surplus because parts of it still will be needed for mass transit parking.
Painters Mill received $16.3 million as a result of the 1988 condemnation proceedings - believed at the time to be the biggest such award in Baltimore County history. Nevertheless, the partnership says in court papers that "if another public purpose had been contemplated, Painters Mill Venture would have been entitled to greater compensation."
The new developer, David S. Brown Enterprises, had planned to start the first of three construction phases this year, including the library and college. For now, the developer is proceeding with work such as engineering and land studies, but "it's all under the cloud of this litigation," said Arthur H. Adler of David S. Brown Enterprises.
The project's history wasn't trouble-free even before the lawsuit. Development around the Metro station was discussed in the early 1990s, but nothing materialized. In 1996, then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening budgeted $500,000 to study development opportunities on the commuter parking lots. From 1997 to 1999, Baltimore County officials worked with consultants on a plan, and Ruppersberger made a detailed proposal public in January 2000.
That year, state and county officials asked developers to submit proposals. They selected LCOR Inc. of Berwyn, Pa., and construction was set to begin in 2001.
But by May 2002, the project was a year behind schedule. County and state officials and LCOR were having trouble deciding how many public and commercial buildings to construct as neighbors voiced concern about traffic and the development's impact on surrounding businesses, especially Owings Mills Mall.
Citing financial hardship after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, LCOR withdrew from the project in October last year. LCOR's contract allowed it to select its replacement if it dropped out; it chose two local companies, Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. and David S. Brown.
The state Board of Public Works then approved a lease with rent of $500,000 annually beginning in 2007, with the amount increasing by 2 percent a year as of 2008.
"We were all excited it was finally moving forward," Ruppersberger said. "And the next thing you know, you hear about this issue."
Del. Robert A. Zirkin, who represents the area, said the news of the repurchase agreement "came as a shock and a disappointment."
"It was never, never on anybody's radar screen," he said.
Zirkin said he hopes the litigation can be resolved quickly, because Owings Mills desperately needs the library and college facility the development would bring.
"We're just all holding our breath and keeping our fingers crossed," he said.