Angelos loses west side suit

Action is called last legal obstacle to `superblock'

January 31, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN REPORTER

A lawsuit spearheaded by Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos challenging a key part of Baltimore's west-side redevelopment has been dismissed, eliminating the last legal obstacle at the trial court level to the city's long-stalled "superblock" project.

The lawsuit was filed in February by companies controlled by Angelos and developer David Hillman, who are west-side property owners. It argued that the agreement between the city and the developer it selected to redevelop the six-block blighted area improperly included a key parcel not listed in the original bid package.

The suit also said the city inappropriately is allowing developer Lexington Square Partners to deduct nearly half of the $21.6 million purchase price for expenses such as demolition and environmental remediation.

The lawsuit asked that the city be required to scrap the deal with Lexington Square, which is proposing to build 400 to 500 market-rate apartments, 200,000 square feet of shops and parking in an area bounded by Howard, West Lexington, Liberty and West Fayette streets.

City Solicitor George Nilson said yesterday that the order by Baltimore Circuit Judge Martin P. Welch "ends the last legal opposition to the west-side development going forward."

Welch wrote that even if the allegations are factually correct, the claim is without legal merit.

Another lawsuit by property owner Carmel Realty, which challenged the city's right to choose a developer at a closed- door meeting, was dropped in November.

And a complaint by the head of a minority contractors association that demolition and environmental work done on the project should have been subject to competitive bid, rather than included in Lexington Square's project, was dismissed in April and is on appeal, Nilson said.

The city's Board of Estimates in November approved deals for several properties considered crucial to the project after years of opposition from their owners, clearing the way for redevelopment to begin this year.

Carmel Realty agreed to give up its right to contest the seizure of its Valu Plus store at 223-227 W. Lexington St. and to develop a nearby property on North Howard Street in exchange for $2.7 million.

The board in November also approved a settlement with the owners of New York Fashions to acquire its 12,000-square-foot flagship store and warehouse at Lexington and Park Avenue for $3.75 million.

Land swap

The property was a key element in a land swap with the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which is developing part of the superblock project along with Baltimore's Cordish Co. That land swap settled a bitter dispute between Weinberg and the city, which was threatening to seize the foundation's properties.

The Weinberg/Cordish team now plans to develop at least 70,000 square feet of offices, apartments, shops and restaurants on the north side of Lexington, between Howard and Park.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said yesterday that architects for Lexington Square are assessing the buildings in the superblock area as part of design and preservation work.

A retail consultant working for the developer is courting tenants. And the city, which has completed most of its property acquisition, is preparing to complete the sale of the 37 properties on West Fayette, Howard, Lexington and Liberty streets and Park Avenue to Lexington Square by midyear. Once Lexington Square has possession of the properties, the company could begin demolishing non-historic buildings this year.

A representative of Lexington Square could not be reached yesterday.

M. Albert Figinski, the attorney for the plaintiffs on the Angelos-led suit, said yesterday that an appeal is being discussed.

Ruling `superficial'

"It's likely we'll appeal," he said, calling the judge's ruling "superficial."

Figinski told The Sun in February that the suit was filed by "people who are very concerned with the delayed and nonexistent development of the former heart of the Baltimore City business district," noting that the city's process to select a developer began in 2003 but had produced no redevelopment plan.

Nilson said outstanding legal appeals might cause the developers to be more cautious in their investment to turn around the superblock. But he said the legal appeals could not be an excuse to delay the project, according to guidelines set in the city's January 2007 agreement to sell the properties to Lexington Square for $21.6 million.

"There is no finite deadline for conclusion of the litigation, but the longer its conclusion is delayed, the longer the developer's obligation to proceed is delayed," Nilson said.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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