A vehicle exhaust testing station under construction in Southwest Baltimore will go ahead as scheduled despite objections raised by neighbors in the Caton I-95 Office Park, a city Circuit Court judged ruled yesterday.
Judge Marshall A. Levin denied a request by two office park companies for a temporary halt to the Maryland Department of Transportation's construction of a station behind a Shoney's motel on Edgewood Street near Caton Avenue.
Representatives of the two companies, Environmental Elements Corp. and the Mueller Partnership, had argued that the state failed to follow its own procurement laws when it authorized MARTA Technologies Inc. to develop the 3.8-acre site as part of a $96.9 million contract. The site is one of 19 in the Baltimore-Washington area being developed by the Nashville, Tenn.-based company so that the state can impose tougher tailpipe emissions standards required by the federal Clean Air Act.
Opponents argued that MARTA had an obligation to meet city zoning restrictions that limit Caton I-95 Office Park to office development. They questioned how Gov. William Donald Schaefer could take away protections that he had guaranteed them when he was mayor 20 years ago.
In his 19-page opinion, Judge Levin came down solidly on the state's and MARTA's side, saying that the plaintiffs didn't have legal standing to object to how procurement laws were interpreted. Moreover, he pointed out that a key zoning protection given the park by the city had expired by the time MARTA took title to the property last fall. Most important, the judge wrote, the state has unquestioned immunity from local zoning laws.
Since MARTA was acting as an agent for the state, that protection extended to the private company. "The plaintiffs have virtually no likelihood that they will be successful in this case because the state, as a sovereign, is not subject to local regulations," the judge wrote.
Andrew J. Parker Jr., a partner in the Mueller Partnership, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the judge's ruling. He said the decision probably would lead him and the other opponents to drop their lawsuit against the state and MARTA.
"We're going to have to wait to hear what our attorney advises, but sooner or later you have to be practical," Mr. Parker said. "Our pockets are not that deep."
Ben C. Clyburn, an assistant state attorney general, said he regarded the judge's ruling, although not necessarily the final word in the matter, as highly favorable to the state.
In his ruling, Judge Levin described the
office park site as "ideally situated because of its proximity to the city's population concentration . . . and its compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood."
George E. Beall, attorney for the opponents, said his clients will have 30 days to appeal the decision if they choose. He said the judge's decision to deny a temporary injunction did not bode well for the lawsuit seeking a permanent halt to construction at the site but that "a lot could happen."
"It's really frustrating, and it's unfair," said Mr. Parker, who, along with other office park tenants, did not want the 600 cars a day the testing station is likely to bring to the area. "You get promised something by Mr. Schaefer years ago, and he takes it away from you later."