The Cordish Cos. can resume work on what is expected to be the state's most lucrative slots parlor at Arundel Mills mall, after opponents withdrew a legal challenge that has delayed the project for several weeks.
Opponents said the developer's promises of better roads and more stoplights around the massive casino allayed concerns that traffic generated by the facility would overwhelm surrounding neighborhoods. Lawyers for two groups dropped their appeals Thursday, just before they were scheduled to be heard by an Anne Arundel County panel.
The move brought a relatively quick resolution to a last-minute snarl that threatened further delay for a project that has faced two years of legal and political battles. Cordish, a Baltimore-based development company, had already held a groundbreaking at Arundel Mills when it was forced by the county to halt its work based on one of the challenges.
County Executive John R. Leopold immediately cheered the resolution.
"What occurred this evening paves the way for this important project to move forward," said Leopold, a Republican. "I'm pleased that the job creation and revenue creation will ensue. It's extremely important to both the county and state."
Harry A. Blumenthal, an attorney representing the Villages of Dorchester Homeowners Association and three residents of the community, and Joseph F. Devlin, an attorney for retail giant Costco, said they were satisfied with the project's county- and state-approved traffic management plan.
The attorneys had each filed three appeals to the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals, with the most recent complaint causing the county to issue a stop-work order at the site. Cordish plans to build a 4,750-slot-machine parlor and entertainment complex on the parking lot of the mall, after winning a long-fought battle from the courtroom to the ballot box.
While the county has granted Cordish a grading permit to begin work on the site, the company still needs a building permit — a procedural hurdle that county officials say will likely be approved once Cordish finishes its grading work.
The traffic plan, which had been in the works for several months and was approved by the county, received final approval from state officials Thursday afternoon, paving the way for the attorneys' actions. The plan calls for the addition of traffic lanes, widened roadways and more traffic lights in the area around the mall.
"The transportation management plan that was presented to me takes care of the concerns of the citizens of the Villages of Dorchester," Blumenthal told the appeals board, which was set to hear arguments in the case. "It provides for bonding of all improvements prior to construction."
Joseph Weinberg, president of development at Cordish, said the traffic plan provides for about 25 improvements and goes beyond what is required by the county law that requires developers to upgrade infrastructure.
"Once the counsel for Cordish and Villages of Dorchester reviewed it, they knew it gave them the confirmation that we have more than adequate plans for traffic management in the region," Weinberg said.
The appeal set the project back by about a month, according to Weinberg, but he said he expected work to resume next week. Cordish officials have said a seven-story parking garage, and a temporary casino with about 2,000 slot machines on the first floor, will be completed by the fall of this year. The permanent structure is expected to be built by the end of 2012.
"I'm happy to now gear back up," Weinberg said.
Devlin, the Costco attorney, told the board he believed the plan "addressed many of the traffic issues … to the extent we believe traffic in the area will improve."
Weinberg said withdrawal of the appeals has "no effect" on a $600 million lawsuit Cordish filed earlier this month, which claims that the company's former business partners in Indiana and the Maryland Jockey Club, along with its owners, conspired to spread false information about the company in an effort to sabotage its plans to build the casino at Arundel Mills. The lawsuit makes no mention of the appeals, and attorneys for Cordish have said the suit was in the works prior to the appeals being filed, though Cordish officials have said they believed the Jockey Club was paying Blumenthal.
Blumenthal, a registered lobbyist in Anne Arundel County for the Jockey Club, said he represented the homeowners association on a pro bono basis. He said he was hopeful his actions would eliminate questions about his motives. Both Blumenthal and the Jockey Club, which helped fund a multimillion-dollar campaign to prevent slots at the mall and steer the county's only slots license to the Laurel Park racetrack, denied that the Jockey Club had any involvement in the traffic appeals.
A Jockey Club official declined to comment Thursday.
"I'm living up to my word," Blumenthal said after the hearing. "I told the citizens that if they needed a lawyer to work for them for free, I would do it. … But I also said if the traffic problems were remedied, that I would be the first one to retreat."