Jolivet to appeal ruling in superblock lawsuit

The Baltimore Sun

A day after a Baltimore Circuit Court judge dismissed his lawsuit against the city, the head of a minority contractors association said yesterday that he plans to push on with his challenge of the city's land sale to a developer for the superblock project on Baltimore's west side.

Arnold M. Jolivet, who filed a lawsuit in January after the city approved the sale of 37 properties to Lexington Square Partners LLC for $21.6 million, argued that the demolition and environmental work agreed to as part of the agreement should have been subject to competitive bid. Under the sales agreement, Lexington Square, formed by the Chera/Dawson Group, can deduct up to $10 million from the purchase price for the cost of demolition, environmental cleanup and streetscape work.

The Jolivet lawsuit argued the city cannot use a land-disposition agreement to essentially give a $10 million contract to the developer.

"Our contention is the city doesn't have a right to award those types of construction work to developers through land purchase agreements," Jolivet said. "The city must competitively bid this and these types of work."

Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan dismissed the lawsuit after a hearing Wednesday. Jolivet, president of the American Minority Contractors and Businesses Association, who said he filed suit as a resident and taxpayer of the city, said he would appeal the decision.

City Solicitor George A. Nilson said yesterday that the judge's decision clears one more obstacle to moving ahead with the long-stalled project to inject new residents, shops and businesses in the deteriorating stretch of the west side, viewed as critical to revitalizing the former retail hub of downtown.

Lexington Square, which filed preliminary plans with Baltimore Development Corp. Friday, plans to build 400 to 500 market-rate apartments, 200,000 square feet of retail space and parking.

"It's the elimination of an obstacle and another item ... in fresh progress on the west side," Nilson said. "A lot of folks have been frustrated in what they view as the slow pace of things."

Lexington Square was selected as developer in 2004. But the city hit snags in acquiring the property, in part because of a dispute over properties owned by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

Last week, the city, Weinberg Foundation and Lexington Square officials agreed to a land swap to resolve the land dispute and enable the foundation and Baltimore-based developer Cordish Co. to proceed with redeveloping a block on the north side of Lexington Street.

The city still faced challenges in three separate lawsuits, including Jolivet's.

"From our point of view, this is one down, two to go," Nilson said. "We're not anticipating that either of those lawsuits will slow down the new resurgent progress of the west side."

The other lawsuits include one from several owners of property south of Lexington Street, challenging the validity of BDC's selection of the Chera/Dawson Group during a closed meeting in 2004.

Another lawsuit against the BDC was filed by companies controlled by Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and developer David Hillman. That suit also asks that the city's deal with Chera/Dawson be declared illegal because the agreement improperly included a key parcel not listed in the original bid package and inappropriately allows the developer to deduct nearly half of the $21.6 million purchase price for expenses such as demolition and environmental remediation.

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