Balto. Co. judge denies request to delay hearing on Catonsville medical office

State prosecutor asked eight county agencies for records on proposed Southwest Physicians Pavilion

  • Shown is a rendering of Whalen Properties' planned Southwest Physicians Pavilion in Catonsville.
Shown is a rendering of Whalen Properties' planned Southwest…
August 20, 2012|By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore County administrative law judge turned down Monday a request from a community association to postpone a hearing on a proposed medical office building in Catonsville that has drawn scrutiny from state investigators.

Last week, the Office of the State Prosecutor subpoenaed eight county agencies for information about the Southwest Physicians Pavilion, a proposed project by Whalen Properties on a 2.5-acre site next to the Baltimore Beltway. The prosecutor's office has not commented on the reason for the subpoenas.

In light of the state's inquiry, a lawyer for the Kenwood Gardens Condominium Association wrote Monday morning to Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence M. Stahl, asking him to delay a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Later on Monday, Administrative Law Judge John E. Beverungen denied the request to postpone the hearing, saying the subpoenas were not relevant to the hearing, in which he will evaluate the project proposal according to county zoning rules. In an email to lawyers for both sides, Beverungen pointed out that no criminal charges have been brought.

"At this point, all that has occurred is that several County agencies have received subpoenas requiring the production of certain documents to the State Prosecutor," he wrote. "The State has not requested that the County postpone or cancel the hearing in this matter and nothing the State has done has prevented [the community association] from preparing their case."

In his letter to Stahl, the condominium association's attorney, J. Carroll Holzer, argued that the state's action had hurt his and his client's preparation for the case.

"Additionally, it would be a violation of any due process to continue the development process in this case while a current investigation by the State prosecutor is being conducted," Holzer wrote.

At the hearing, the judge will consider whether to approve the plan so that Whalen Properties can move forward, Holzer said. "It's the only hearing that the citizens have a right to come in and talk about their objections to the project," he said.

The attorney for Whalen Properties told Stahl that basing a delay on the state's inquiry would be speculative and create a bias against the project, which she said had "proceeded entirely in keeping with the laws of Baltimore County."

"The community and Mr. Holzer have had over a year to prepare for the hearing, and the prejudice he has alleged is merely a tactic intended to cause delay based solely on his clients' anti-development sentiments," lawyer Deborah C. Dopkin wrote in a letter to the judge. "The integrity of the development process stands on its own, and is independent of the activity of the State Prosecutor."

Whalen Properties has "planned unit development" status for the project, which allows developers to be exempt from certain regulations if their project offers benefits to the community.

The 89,110-square-foot project would include a four-story medical office building over a three-story parking garage. The firm is seeking exceptions to development rules on issues such as signs, setbacks and building height.

Paul Black, president of the condominium association, said members of his group feel the project would not fit in with the community.

"When you come back into this little community, it's quiet," Black said. Whalen Properties "wants to put this big building, so it can be seen from the Beltway, on this little piece of land."

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration has declined to release the subpoenas, saying they are sealed documents.

"We have absolutely no reason to believe that county agencies are being investigated in any way related to this property," said Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for Kamenetz.

Holzer said he believes the subpoenas raise questions about the county's review of the project.

"It seems to me it's a pretty significant issue when the state prosecutor asks for documentation on a particular case," said Holzer, adding that he had never seen such a situation before.

Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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