W. Baltimore homeowners sue state to block Red Line

Residents seek more than $22 million, say they were left out of transit planning

  • A rendering of the Red Line along Edmondson Avenue. It would run from western Baltimore County to East Baltimore.
A rendering of the Red Line along Edmondson Avenue. It would… (Rendering: Baltimore City…)
October 02, 2014|By Kevin Rector | The Baltimore Sun

More than two dozen West Baltimore homeowners are suing the state of Maryland to block the planned Red Line transit project from tunneling beneath their block, contending that they were inappropriately left out of the planning process.

They seek more than $22 million in damages for lost property value and emotional distress.

"Right now, they've lost so much of the value of their homes," said Lewyn Scott Garrett, one of three attorneys representing the 25 homeowners in the 300 block of N. Fremont Ave. in the city's Poppleton neighborhood. "The prospect of what could happen is much worse."

After the collapse of half a block of East 26th Street into a Charles Village railroad cut during heavy rain in April, Garrett said, residents are nervous about living above a transit tunnel. They say in the lawsuit that they have "suffered deprivation of sleep" and "mental and emotional distress" thinking about the project.

They filed the lawsuit Thursday against the state and Gov. Martin O'Malley; the state Transportation Department and Secretary James T. Smith Jr.; the Maryland Transit Administration and Administrator Robert Smith; and Henry Kay, the MTA's executive director of transit development and delivery.

Nina Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Anthony Brown, an MTA spokesman, said state officials were unaware of it Thursday evening.

"We haven't seen a complaint, so we can't comment on anything," he said.

The 14.1-mile Red Line would connect Woodlawn with Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center through parts of Baltimore County and the center of Baltimore.

The project has been in the works for years. The homeowners say the path was "surreptitiously re-routed" in 2012 from Martin Luther King Boulevard to beneath Fremont Avenue. They say they were not given proper notice of the new route until 2013, and were not given the opportunity to participate in public hearings or on community advisory committees organized to collect local input.

"Concessions were made for other parts of the city," Garrett said, "but because this is a low-income area, no concessions were made."

The homeowners say the state's "failure to communicate" with the residents "constitutes a willful and deliberate attempt to circumvent" their input and "impermissible discrimination based on race and income."

They seek $350,000 per property in compensatory damages, for a total of $7.35 million. They also want the state to pay $15 million in punitive damages, all of the homeowners' court and attorney fees, and any other relief the court deems "just and equitable under the circumstances."

They also want the court to block construction of the Red Line according to the current plan, and to find that the state violated the homeowners' rights.

Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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