By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
6:58 PM EDT, May 27, 2013
A Baltimore County Board of Appeals panel has ruled against a community group fighting a planned medical office building in Catonsville.
The three board members on Thursday affirmed an earlier decision by a county administrative law judge who had approved a proposal for Whalen Properties' Southwest Physicians Pavilion, finding that the development plan meets legal requirements.
The Kenwood Gardens Condominium Association had filed its appeal in March, pointing to developer Steve Whalen's conviction in January for making illegal campaign contributions to county politicians. Whalen admitted to deceptively funneling $7,500 to the campaign of County Councilman Tom Quirk, as well as to exceeding campaign contribution limits in donations to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Councilman David Marks.
Gail Dawson of the condo association said she was "very disappointed" in last week's ruling.
"I just felt like they were rubber-stamping it," she said.
The association could now appeal to the Circuit Court, but Dawson said the group hasn't decided whether to do so. They are waiting for the board to issue a formal written opinion on the case.
"At that time, we will meet and discuss our next move," Dawson said.
Whalen has acknowledged he was wrong in making the illegal contributions. State prosecutors said they found no evidence of a "quid pro quo" between him and county officials regarding the Catonsville project.
The condo association had argued that the plans for the office complex, proposed for Kenwood Avenue near the Baltimore Beltway, should have been rejected, alleging that Whalen's illegal donations tainted the county's review process.
"This case presents the 'appearance of impropriety' from its beginning to its end," the group's attorney, J. Carroll Holzer, wrote in a legal filing.
According to minutes of the Board of Appeals' deliberations, the board sympathized with those concerns, "but determined that they do not have authority over the County Council and cannot question the motivations of any County Council member."
In the fall of 2011, the County Council had approved a resolution authorizing county agencies to review the project proposal.
"Any possible impropriety before the Resolution was passed by the County Council is not relevant to the matter before the Board," the minutes state.
Whalen and his attorney, Deborah Dopkin, declined to comment until the appeals board issues its written decision.
"I am certainly hopeful," Whalen said.
The Board of Appeals' written order is due June 7, said board administrator Theresa Shelton.
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