Judges clears way for warehouse to be converted to 57 apartments


A Baltimore Circuit judge dismissed yesterday four lawsuits filed by a Little Italy community organization seeking to block a developer from converting a vacant warehouse into apartments that will include subsidized housing.

Judge Richard T. Rombro ruled that the Little Italy Community Organization and Richard Ingrao, a former president of LICO, did not have the proper standing to sue the mayor and City Council to block building permits for the renovation project.

Residents object to developer Patrick Turner's plan to renovate the old Bagby Furniture Co. warehouse, at Exeter and Fleet streets in Little Italy, into 57 units, with 10 apartments set aside for low- to moderate-income residents.

The subsidized units are required for construction loans that Mr. Turner received from the city and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Residents of the community, on the east edge of downtown, have said they oppose the project for several reasons, including the parking and traffic congestion it will cause, and the problems that can come with subsidized housing.

Mr. Turner said yesterday's ruling clears any roadblock to going forward with the project. He said he expects to start construction within a month, with a completion date of 12 months after that.

"We're pleased," Mr. Turner said last night. "We're anxious to move forward with the project."

However, Mr. Ingrao said the setback does not mean that his efforts to stop the project are over.

"We have a strategy, and I believe we're right," he said. He refused to say what his next move is, but said that further legal action is "not out of the question."

Mr. Ingrao also expressed doubts about Mr. Turner's construction timetable. "I'd be very surprised if he starts within a month," Mr. Ingrao said. "Two years ago, he said he'd have it done within six months."

Mr. Turner said he was unsure whether it would be possible to mend fences with his Little Italy neighbors.

"We'd certainly like to be in a working relationship with them," he said. "I'm not sure how that's going to work out. We still have lawsuits pending against them."

Mr. Turner was referring to a $6 million suit he filed against LICO, Mr. Ingrao and John Guerriero, a businessman and Little Italy resident. The suit alleges the defendants conspired to prevent him from acquiring financing to buy the Bagby building by filing their lawsuits.

The suit further alleges that the defendants attempted to depress the value of the Bagby building by filing the suit, and that Mr. Guerriero attempted to buy the building at a price far below its market value.

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