Edgewater campus' future left in doubt

Official says college will turn to highest Md. court after ruling says facility violates covenant

August 03, 2005|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The impact of a recent court ruling that Sojourner-Douglass College's new Anne Arundel campus was built in violation of covenants on the property will not be known for weeks, perhaps months.

But it could lead to the razing of the $2.5 million building - which opened in mid-July - tucked behind trees on an Edgewater lot.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals ruled late last month that construction of the classroom building and parking lot was barred by a 1988 covenant that required the 6-acre wooded parcel to remain "undeveloped, except for educational facilities in conjunction with the Anne Arundel County Board of Education."

That ruling - issued days after the historically black Baltimore-based college opened the Edgewater satellite campus - voided a 2004 ruling by an Anne Arundel County judge who said construction could proceed.

Nevertheless, classes will start at the campus Monday, said college President Charles W. Simmons. He said Sojourner-Douglas will turn to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals.

"Our next step is to appeal that decision," he said.

How the appellate ruling will be carried out will be unknown until the court issues a mandate. Lawyers for both sides said the case probably will be sent back to Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

"I am not sure what the next course is going to be," said James C. Praley, a lawyer for builder Tom Schubert.

Joseph F. Devlin, who represented South River Colony homeowners and London Towne Property Owners Association in their opposition to the new campus, said: "From our perspective, the covenant requires the property to remain undeveloped. We will be at a point where the existing structure will have to be removed."

Schubert went ahead with construction despite the pending appeal; by the time appellate briefs were filed this year, much of the construction was complete. He had prevailed in three administrative and two court proceedings, Praley said.

Opponents contend that building the site at routes 2 and 214 violates agreements made in 1988 that led to the development of South River Colony, a mixed-use community across Route 214 from the new campus.

Last summer, Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth allowed construction of the satellite campus. The college planned to move from leased space on Old Solomons Road near Annapolis.

Silkworth ruled that the campus would not violate the covenant because since 1993, the college has worked cooperatively with the Anne Arundel County public schools.

The higher court disagreed. In the appellate ruling, Judge J. Frederick Sharer noted that the Board of Education was not involved in the development of the property.

College supporters have alleged that there were racial undertones to opposition to the creation of a campus serving a mostly black adult student body in a mostly white community with a history of racial strife. But Devlin said the issue is the land-use restrictions, which earlier led a child care center and church to back away from inquiries to develop the site.

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