By Hanah Cho, The Baltimore Sun
5:20 PM EDT, April 27, 2012
Maryland's highest court has cleared the way for the city to move forward with its plans for the long-delayed $152 million Superblock project.
The Maryland Court of Appeals dismissed Friday a lawsuit by Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos that challenged the project. In a 4-3 decision, the court said Angelos did not have standing to sue, affirming a Baltimore Circuit Court ruling to dismiss the complaint.
Long stymied by legal challenges, the project involves construction of a 269-unit apartment building, a 650-space underground parking garage and shops called Lexington Square near Lexington and Howard streets.
Baltimore officials said they were pleased with the court's decision.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement that rebuilding the west side was an important part of the city's goal to increase its population by 10,000 families over the next decade.
"The Lexington Square redevelopment is going to help transform that neighborhood and strengthen the surrounding area," she said. "We look forward to seeing new progress and change on the west side."
In the lawsuit, Angelos contended that the head of the Maryland Historical Trust did not have the authority to act for the trust when he approved preliminary plans for the west-side redevelopment in December 2010. The trust's board later protested that decision.
Angelos' suit alleged that the city's plan to sell blighted property to be redeveloped as a mixed-used project circumvents rules and fails to preserve historic buildings. A memorandum of agreement between the city and the Historical Trust gives the group a say in the project's redevelopment plans and its effects on historic properties.
The high court's majority found that the agreement between the city and the trust is private; therefore, Angelos was neither a party to nor a beneficiary of it.
In writing for the dissent, however, Chief Justice Robert M. Bell disagreed, saying that Angelos has "taxpayer standing."
Moreover, Bell wrote that the memo between the trust and the city is so "inextricably bound with the land uses to be developed that it creates land use standing and cannot be considered a purely private contract."
M. Albert Figinski, an attorney for Angelos, called the dissent "powerful and correct."
"The majority opinion has hurt beyond this case because it inhibits preservationists' right to sue," he said Friday.
Preservation Maryland, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Baltimore Heritage filed briefs in support of Angelos' appeal.
While awaiting a decision by the state's highest court, the city moved forward on other matters related to the Lexington Square project.
Earlier this week, Rawlings-Blake asked the City Council to award a hefty tax break to Lexington Square Partners LLC, which would allow the project's developer to pay taxes on a fraction of the value of the apartment complex on Fayette Street. City officials say it would not be feasible for the developer to build without a tax incentive.
The tax break would cover the apartments and garage, not retail space. The proposal will get a hearing before the council's Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee before going to the full body for a final vote. Councilman Carl Stokes, the committee's chairman, has been a fierce critic of tax incentives.
Also this week, the city's Board of Estimates granted the developer an extension until Dec. 31 to purchase the property from the city and start construction.
The Court of Appeals' decision Friday was the third of its kind involving the Superblock project and 120 West Fayette Street LLP, the entity associated with Angelos.
In 2010, the court upheld a lower-court ruling that the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development agency, acted properly in selecting Lexington Square Partners to build the project.
Angelos contended that Lexington Square was not following a 2001 agreement between the city and state that guides development on the west side. He also questioned the way the BDC selects developers.
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