College seeks to buy site of its Edgewater facility

School at center of legal battle with neighbors

Education Beat


Hoping to end a legal fight over Sojourner-Douglass College's new Edgewater facility, college officials want to purchase the building - and the nearly 6 acres beneath it - that have been at the center of a neighborhood group's complaints and continuing court action.

School officials informed the facility's landlord, Earl P. Schubert, this month that they intend to exercise the purchase option under the terms of the school's lease. They have since asked him to begin the appraisal process, according to correspondence released to The Sun.

Schubert wrote to school officials: "It has always been my hope that the College some day would become owner of its Edgewater campus."

Sojourner-Douglass, a Baltimore-based historically black college, contracted with Schubert to build the $2.5 million facility after the school outgrew its satellite campus in Annapolis. The Edgewater campus, at Routes 2 and 214, opened in July.

But the school has been embroiled in legal battles over the campus for years. In April 2003, members of a conservancy board representing the nearby South River Colony petitioned the county zoning office to shut down the school.

A year later, South River Colony homeowners and London Towne Property Owners Association filed a lawsuit against the college, claiming that the campus violated a covenant governing land use in the area, which said the parcel must remain undeveloped unless used for education facilities in conjunction with the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.

A Circuit Court judge ruled in the college's favor, and the building was completed. Students are attending classes, as are pupils from the KIPP Harbor Academy charter school through an arrangement with the school system.

But a July ruling by a three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals reversed the Circuit Court judge's decision. College officials have said that they plan to appeal; a rally in support of the college was recently held at the Court of Appeals building.

While waiting to hear whether the building will have to be razed, school officials were heartened when they read that a plaintiff in the suit told a newspaper reporter that he didn't have a problem with the school itself, but rather did not want the developer owning the land, said Charlestine R. Fairley, the school's director.

"We always intended to purchase it," Fairley said. "We thought this would be a good time to do it."

John Rhoades, president of the London Towne Property Owners Association, and the plaintiff to whom Fairley was referring, said this week that he could not comment on the school's decision to purchase the facility because of the litigation. The attorney representing both homeowner groups could not be reached for comment.

Fairley said that the lawsuit is an obstacle to the purchase and that school officials had hoped the London Town group would drop its appeal once it heard of the school's plans.

"As soon as the court resolves the issue, we're in the position to purchase it," Fairley said, adding: "We're in the position that if the court's ruling is unacceptable to us, we'd go on and appeal it."

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