Judge tosses out Grand Prix tree suit

Residents angered by the removal of trees downtown to make way for the Baltimore Grand Prix got a sympathetic but firm lesson in the law Monday, as a city Circuit Court judge summarily dismissed a lawsuit seeking to prevent any more trees from coming down.

By day's end, however, the protesters had won one of their goals — release of the agreement the city struck with the racing organization detailing the tree removal and plans for planting nearly 200 trees to make up for the disruption.

Judge Evelyn O. Cannon ruled that the complaint filed Friday by David C. Troy and seven other residents didn't get to first base, legally speaking, so she had no basis for granting a temporary restraining order halting any further tree removal.

Troy, a software developer from Bolton Hill, had rallied opposition to the tree removal last week with an online petition that drew more than 4,000 supporters. He went to court, he explained, out of frustration with the shifting accounts of how many trees were being cut down and the city's refusal to release the as-yet-unsigned tree agreement it had negotiated with the racing group.

Matthew Nayden, the city's lawyer, suggested Troy was acting out of political motivations, as a supporter of former planning director Otis Rolley, who is challenging MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The judge said all she had to go on was what was in Troy's complaint. But the residents had sued the wrong party, she said, since a contractor for Baltimore Racing Development had removed the trees, not the city. And she pointed out that the city code provision residents claim was violated — requiring the city to post five days' notice of any tree coming down — doesn't apply to private parties.

She also suggested Troy may lack legal standing to challenge the cutting, since he lives about a mile from the race course.

"You may be legitimately feeling outraged," she told Troy, who represented himself in the brief hearing. "But I can't decide based on that."

City officials had declared on Friday that tree removal along the race course had been limited to 31, down from the 50 they'd said earlier in the week would be taken — and far fewer than the 136 figure a racing official had originally given on Monday.

It came out at the hearing, though, that nine other trees are still to be moved from in front of the Baltimore Hilton on West Pratt Street. John Hawley, the hotel's sales and marketing manager, said the trees, all less than 3 years old, would be transplanted elsewhere on the grounds.

The judge urged city officials to be more forthcoming about their arrangements with the racing organization to replace the cut trees and plant more. Once the details are public, she suggested, "everybody just might be able to sleep better."

Racing officials say they plan to plant 59 new trees along the race course, plus another 139 around downtown in spots where trees are missing or dead. And Grand Prix CEO Jay Davidson said the organization would pay for 5,000 more saplings for the city to use where it sees fit.

Later in the day, the city provided the document to Troy, who shared it with The Baltimore Sun.

Troy acknowledged after the hearing that his campaign to save the trees had been "rough around the edges," but he said he didn't regret launching it.

"If we had done nothing," he said, "I suspect there would have been a lot more trees coming down."


Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad