Sojourner-Douglass awaits verdict on site

College, residents at odds over Edgewater covenant

May 23, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Edgewater residents seeking to keep Sojourner-Douglass College out of their neighborhood had their day in court Friday, arguing that the historically black college's campus is not permitted under land-use plans for the area.

College officials, meanwhile, said their plans to build a branch on the 6-acre property fit under a covenant that says the land could only be developed for educational uses.

The two sides now await a verdict from Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth.

The London Towne Property Owners' Association and Edgewater resident John Yannone said they filed the court action to protect a 16-year-old covenant governing their area. The covenant says the land where the college would build must remain undeveloped unless it is to be used "in conjunction" with the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.

The legal argument between neighbors and the college hinges on ambiguous language in the covenant.

College officials and their prospective landlord, Earl P. Schubert, said they've met the conditions by arranging to open the proposed campus for Board of Education use during the day.

But the neighbors' attorney, Joseph Devlin, argued that because the Board of Education might team up with the college someday does not mean the board has played any role in developing the land.

"There is the appearance of a relationship, but there is no relationship" between the college and the board, Devlin said in his closing argument.

Though Friday's proceedings focused on fine legal points, the dispute over the campus has raised broader questions about the racial climate in Edgewater, with some college supporters saying residents don't want a historically black institution as their neighbor.

The area has a history of racial tension.

In 2000, then-schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham, who is black, received a death threat that was laced with racial epithets. The letter-writer objected to Parham's plan to send children from the predominantly white Mayo area of Edgewater to predominantly black Annapolis Middle School while the Edgewater school was being fixed.

Last year, racist graffiti was painted on a stairwell at South River High, which serves the area.

Named for abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, the Baltimore-based college hopes to move its Annapolis satellite campus out of leased space on Old Solomons Island Road and into a proposed 16,000-square-foot building at the intersection of Routes 2 and 214.

The private college, with four branches in Maryland and one in the Bahamas, has outgrown its Annapolis location, school officials say. When it came to the area in 1993, it had 10 students. Now it has about 200.

The school's curriculum focuses on management skills and community development, with classes offered to adults on evenings and weekends.

The Edgewater residents opposing the college say they're not motivated by race. They say they're protecting one of many land-use agreements negotiated in 1988 involving neighborhood associations and the developers of the sprawling South River Colony subdivision, which had owned the parcel.

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