A Catonsville community association is appealing Baltimore County's approval of plans for a new medical office building, saying the developer's recent conviction in a campaign finance case invalidates the entire review process.
In documents filed last week, the Kenwood Gardens Condominium Association argues the project is tainted by Steve W. Whalen Jr.'s illegal contributions to county politicians. The group opposes the Southwest Physicians Pavilion, planned for Kenwood Avenue off the Baltimore Beltway.
Last month, Administrative Law Judge John E. Beverungen approved Whalen's plan, saying it met county zoning and planning regulations.
Whalen pleaded guilty in January to five counts of violating state election law. He admitted that he illegally channeled $7,500 to the campaign of County Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat. He also admitted exceeding the $10,000 limit for an individual donor in an election cycle by giving other political contributions to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat, and County Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican. None of the county officials were charged with any wrongdoing.
Beverungen wrote in his January opinion approving the plans that state prosecutors found no evidence of a "quid pro quo" involving Whalen and county officials.
Still, the Kenwood Gardens group points to emails between Whalen and Quirk that were presented by prosecutors in January, showing that the councilman and the developer corresponded about fundraising at the same time they were discussing the project.
The County Council resolution that authorized review of the project is "invalid, tainted and results from the 'fruit of the poisonous tree,'" the association's attorney alleges in appeal filings.
In the appeal papers, the group also takes issue with a bill on development requirements that the County Council passed in the spring of 2012, saying the measure was "designed to specifically address this project." The association says that raises "a constitutional question" because the Maryland Constitution bars legislation that is designed to favor a particular property.
Whalen said Friday he was not surprised by the appeal, adding that he plans to proceed as normal in seeking county permits for grading and storm water management plans for the new building. The medical office is set to be an 89,110-square-foot, seven-story building that includes a three-level parking structure.
"I think it's an obstructionist move on their part, a delaying move," Whalen said of the Kenwood Gardens appeal. "We're not going to let it stop us."
The condominium association's lawyer, J. Carroll Holzer, called the $53,000 fine Whalen paid as a result of his conviction "a drop in the bucket" compared to the profit the office building could generate for Whalen Properties.
"He's going to make millions and millions and millions as a result of this [project]," Holzer said, adding that he believes Whalen should have been precluded from moving forward with his project as part of his plea agreement. "How is that punishment?"
It will likely take about two months before the case goes in front of the county Board of Appeals, Holzer said.
Quirk said he feels "the community has every right to appeal, and we'll see what's decided."
"I'm very confident that this is a very quality [development] with great public benefits," the councilman said. "And I think in the final analysis, those facts will ultimately win the day."
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