U.S. role sought in city bid process N.Y. firm fears bias on project to develop Lafayette Courts site


Saying it fears bias by Baltimore's Housing Authority, one of two bidders to redevelop the site of the demolished Lafayette Courts housing project is demanding that a federally picked panel evaluate the bids.

The New York-based Edmonds Group is asking that its bid on the $45 million to $65 million project to build townhouses, a high-rise for the elderly and other buildings not be opened unless the demand is granted.

In a Nov. 1 letter to the Housing Authority, the developer said it wants the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, rather than the city agency, to appoint the selection panel. The reason, the letter stated, would be "to avoid any question of favoritism, ensure that the award will be fair and the most qualified proposer is selected."

In an interview last week, Peter H. McCallion, an attorney for the Edmonds Group, said he demanded the HUD panel in large part because of the absence of local competitors for the contract. Price is just one factor in awarding the contract, which does not necessarily have to be awarded to the lowest bidder.

"I heard all sorts of rumors that nobody was bidding on this because the decision had already been made," he said.

The Housing Authority rejected the Edmonds Group's demand last week, saying that the authority had the right under HUD regulations to select the panel and arguing that the developer had failed to meet HUD's requirement of a "serious violation" of pro-curement rules. The agency gave Edmonds three days to agree with its interpretation or said it would return the bid unopened.

That would leave just one bidder for the project -- a joint venture headed by A&R; Development Corp. of Baltimore and Harkins Builders of Bethesda.

Housing Authority Executive Director Daniel P. Henson III blasted Edmonds' demand for a HUD panel as "ludicrous" and "stupid." He said it was important that the decision be made by local officials who understood the needs of the project and denied that any decisions already had been made.

"Why would Baltimore be intimidated by some slickers from New York?" he said. "If they don't want us to open their proposal, we won't open it."

In that event, the Housing Authority would review the one remaining bid to redevelop the former site of six high-rise towers in East Baltimore, which were imploded in August, Mr. Henson said.

Appeal is contemplated

"We'll consider what we get," he said. "If it's inconsistent with what we need, then we'll go back to the drawing board."

The Edmonds Group is contemplating an appeal to HUD, Mr. McCallion said.

Alex Sachs, a HUD spokesman in Washington, described Edmonds' demand for a HUD-appointed panel to review the bids as a "unprecedented kind of request."

But he said the federal housing agency would "take a look" at any protest.

Last week, HUD ordered the Housing Authority to revoke a contract with the Nation of Islam Security Agency, saying it was awarded arbitrarily.

The Housing Authority has also been criticized by some City Council members and its own commissioners for its hurried selection last April of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse to rebuild the Lexington Terrace public housing high-rise in West Baltimore. Mr. Henson is a former Struever Bros. partner.

'Very small role'

C. William Struever, president of the company, said "we have a very small role" as a subcontractor to Harkins on the Lafayette Courts project. But he said his firm decided not to bid on the contract because it wants "to diversify our work outside the city."

Efforts to reach officials of A&R; Development, whose bid on the Lexington Terrace project was not accepted, and Harkins Builders were unsuccessful.

A&R; is headed by Theo Rodgers, who was appointed this month by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to the 11-member board overseeing the city's economic development agency and who is a member of a team recently selected by the city to develop a shopping complex in the Charles-North renewal area.

Harkins has been involved in several large projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

The Edmonds Group is headed by John L. Edmonds, a lawyer and real estate developer who says he has developed nearly 1,000 units of affordable housing in New York City.

Its design consultant is Whitney Bailey Cox Magnini, a Towson firm whose projects include vehicle emission testing stations and the light rail extension.

Design work sought

Philip Der, a Whitney partner, said his firm contacted the Edmonds Group seeking design work after being told by several local construction companies with which it had worked that they weren't going to bid on Lafayette Courts.

"I wasn't given a real good reason," he said.

Besides the lack of bidders, Mr. McCallion said he was prompted to demand a HUD-appointed panel because the Housing Authority was slow to respond to questions his client had about bid specifications, including those involving minority hiring and environmental cleanup.

"The communication was very difficult to say the least," he said.

But Mr. Henson said that the Edmonds Group was merely trying to "buy more time" to complete its proposal.

The Housing Authority wound up extending the deadline from Oct. 5 to Nov. 2.

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