By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
6:10 PM EST, December 3, 2012
The lawyer for a community association trying to stop a medical office complex from being built in Catonsville called for a mistrial Monday in a Baltimore County hearing on the project, saying his clients should be allowed to inspect records sought by state prosecutors in a recent inquiry into the proposed development.
During the last day of testimony in the administrative hearing, attorney J. Carroll Holzer said the Kenwood Gardens Condominium Association had been denied "due process" in objecting to the Southwest Physicians Pavilion planned by Whalen Properties.
"I believe that the open process envisioned by the Baltimore County code and development regulations has been subverted and rendered unfair," Holzer told Administrative Law Judge John E. Beverungen, who did not rule on the motion Monday.
The Maryland prosecutor's office subpoenaed multiple county agencies this past summer for records on the project but has not said why it wanted the information. Monday was the fifth day of testimony in the administrative hearing since August. Holzer said that during previous testimony, county department heads were not allowed to discuss documents requested by the prosecutor's office, and those records could be relevant to his clients' case.
The subpoenas sought a broad range of information, including records of developer Steve Whalen's telephone and email communications with county officials, as well as information related to county zoning laws and any proposals to change rules to accommodate the project. County officials at first declined to release the subpoenas but later inadvertently included a copy of one in response to a public records request by The Baltimore Sun.
At the hearing Monday, Whalen's attorney, Deborah C. Dopkin, argued that Holzer had ample opportunity to review documents relevant to the case, such as planning and zoning files.
Beverungen, who is evaluating whether the project proposed for a 2.5-acre site next to the Baltimore Beltway meets county regulations, asked lawyers for both sides to submit closing arguments in writing by Jan. 2. He is expected to decide whether to approve the development plans in mid-January.
Holzer contends that the site is not compatible with the project. He argues that county officials considered a wider portion of land — one that includes a shopping center and retirement community — than they should have when deciding what level of density is appropriate for the site.
While the condo association has raised objections, including traffic and noise the project could create, the judge on Monday heard from longtime Catonsville community leader Maureen Sweeney Smith, who said the development would increase neighbors' property values and "make our community a better place to live."
"With new signage, lighting, sidewalks and landscaping, we can turn a beltway ramp into a pedestrian-friendly walkway," said Sweeney Smith, who lives at Kenwood Gardens.
Sweeney Smith said she has asked the condo association to work with Whalen so that the project turns out well for the community, "but their only goal is to completely defeat the project."
Also Monday, Dopkin told the judge that Whalen planned several revisions to the development plans to address certain community concerns, including making some signs smaller and ensuring that an illuminated sign on the west side of the building is not lit after 11 p.m.
County leaders and Whalen have said they do not know why state investigators wanted the information listed in the subpoenas, and the prosecutor's office has declined to comment.
In August, Beverungen denied Holzer's request to delay the administrative hearing because of the prosecutor's questions, saying the subpoenas weren't relevant to the hearing and pointing out that no criminal charges have been brought.
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