Neighbors Sue School Board Over Plan For New Towson Elementary

April 24, 2009|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,arin.gencer@baltsun.com

Four Towson families filed suit Thursday in Baltimore County Circuit Court against the Board of Education, contending that it failed to comply with laws and policies in deciding to build a new elementary school - and calling for a stop to the project.

The residents, whose properties border the proposed site for West Towson Elementary, contend that adding another building next to Ridge Ruxton School on North Charles Street - along with several hundred more students - raises safety and environmental concerns, according to the suit. The project, and its proximity to their homes, will diminish their property values, the suit says.

"We're just concerned that things have moved so quickly without due process," said Sophia Dryer, one of the plaintiffs, whose Boyce Avenue property faces Ridge Ruxton's recreation fields. "You cannot fit a second school on that site. And that's just not fair - and not safe."

The suit is another bump in the long and winding road that led the board to vote last May to build the school. For months before that, parents pushed for a solution to ease crowding in Towson-area elementaries. Rodgers Forge Elementary, in particular, stood at about 80 percent over capacity as of Sept. 30. To alleviate crowding there, fourth-graders will temporarily be moved to Dumbarton Middle this fall.

West Towson is to open in August 2010.

School and county officials declined to comment on the pending litigation. "We supported the school system's decision," said Ellen Kobler, a county spokeswoman. "We felt it was a very viable location that works well."

The suit contends that the board failed to give "prior notice to the community" about its decision to build on the Ridge Ruxton site. The school would be less than 100 feet from the plaintiffs' properties and "cause excessive noise and disturbance throughout the construction process," the suit states. The project also "will consume already limited green" and recreation space, and add more sediment and runoff into a nearby stream, it says.

The plaintiffs hope to have a hearing for a temporary restraining order next week, pending another on a request for a preliminary injunction, said Margaret Fonshell Ward, their attorney. The injunction would halt the project until a decision is made on the merits of the case, she said.

Stuart D. Kaplow, a real estate attorney in Towson, said that when a local government advances funding for school construction, as the county plans to do, "the project almost in all instances proceeds."

"In most instances, the state's concern is that the local government capacity calculations satisfy the state's requirements," he said. "That becomes the threshold issue, not necessarily matters of process."

Schools and communities live side by side throughout the county, said Cathi Forbes, chairwoman of Towson Families United, a grass-roots group that fought for a solution to the crowding.

"In every community, you have to balance the needs of people," Forbes said. "You have to weigh the benefits of a new elementary school that will alleviate this overcrowding for hundreds and hundreds of kids versus the concerns of a few people who bought homes adjacent to Baltimore County public schools-owned land."

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