Judge dismisses motions on land swap for new Mays Chapel school

A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge dismissed a pair of motions filed by Baltimore County and the Save Mays Chapel Park Committee Tuesday, extending the long-running legal wrangling between the two parties over the process used to secure the land for the new elementary school in Mays Chapel.

Alan Zukerberg, attorney for the Save Mays Chapel Park Committee, said a land exchange between Baltimore County Public Schools and the county government that made school construction possible is at the heart of the current dispute.

A County Council resolution passed in January approved the swap of a pair of 10-acre lots, but Zukerberg filed a motion for summary judgment asking for the swap to be voided because the county violated its own code by not having the properties independently appraised.

According to the resolution, the properties were both appraised by S. David Nantz, senior review appraiser for Baltimore County.

The county, however, contended in its motion for summary judgment that independent appraisals were not necessary because the exchange was between two government entities. The county's motion was also dismissed, Zukerberg said.

Zukerberg said hearings on the matter will continue on whether the land exchange was conducted legally. No dates are set for future hearings.

The controversial plan to build a 700-seat elementary school at Mays Chapel Park has repeatedly come under legal scrutiny from opponents.

After the Baltimore County Board of Education approved the plans to build the school in the spring of 2012, opponents filed a legal protest on the grounds that proper notice was not given for a public hearing on the matter.

The State Board of Education ruled in favor of the opponents in November 2012, and in January 2013, the county school board replicated the approval process with a second public hearing. The county school board again approved the plans.

The current legal opposition stems from the Jan. 22 County Council vote authorizing the land swap. The county-owned portion, which was previously a wooded area, was easier to build on, officials said, and the two entities swapped land, though all 20 acres will comprise the school's footprint.

A second suit was filed by the Save Mays Chapel Park Committee that challenges the conveyance of the Project Open Space guidelines between pieces. The original wooded area was protected under state Open Space laws, although no rulings have been made in that case.

Despite the legal wrangling, construction of the school has proceeded in advance of its August 2014 opening. At the April 26 groundbreaking ceremony, protesters drowned out speeches by Board of Education President Lawrence Schmidt and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz before Kamenetz began yelling back at the protesters.

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