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Maryland senator to withdraw bill that would allow development at Pikesville cemetery

A state senator said he would withdraw an obscure bill that sought to undo a 2013 Maryland Court of Appeals decision blocking development at a Pikesville cemetery.

Residents who years ago went to court to stop a housing proposal at Druid Ridge Cemetery had cried foul over the legislation, which was introduced late in the General Assembly session by a state senator from Montgomery County.

Community members questioned why Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, a Democrat who represents the Washington suburbs, would sponsor a bill affecting a piece of property in Baltimore County. They said the legislation re-opened a dispute they thought long settled.

David B. Shapiro, a former state delegate and now president of the Dumbarton Improvement Association, which represents a neighborhood near the cemetery, called the legislation “a last-minute bill that was slipped in.”

On Friday, following questions about the measure from The Baltimore Sun, Waldstreicher said he instructed his staff to withdraw the bill and that he hadn’t intended to get involved in a Baltimore County land-use issue. A committee hearing that had been set for this Wednesday is canceled.

Waldstreicher introduced the bill March 11. Since it was late in the session, he had to ask the Senate permission to “suspend the rules” to expedite the legislation.

Earlier, Waldstreicher had told The Sun that lobbyists asked him to introduce the legislation and that he disagreed with the 2013 court ruling. He said he did not know who was interested in developing the land.

“The Perry, [White], Ross, Jacobson firm came to me to talk about the bill,” he said, referring to an Annapolis lobbying firm. “Once I read the cases, the lower court cases and the Court of Appeals case, it was like a no-brainer to me that the case was wrongly decided.”

Waldstreicher is a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which had been scheduled to hear the bill. State Sen. Bobby Zirkin chairs the committee and represents the district where the cemetery is located.

Zirkin said lobbyist Tim Perry also asked him to sponsor the bill.

“I was asked to sponsor a bill and I said that I didn’t have any time for any bills this late in the session, that we’re dealing with some big-ticket issues,” said Zirkin, a Democrat. “I said you should find someone else on the committee who can understand this stuff if you want a bill.”

Perry, who is registered to lobby for numerous clients, declined to comment on the legislation.

“As the legislation has been withdrawn, I am not authorized to comment,” he said in an email to The Sun. He didn’t respond to an inquiry about which of his clients wanted the bill.

The Court of Appeals decision the bill sought to undo stemmed from a dispute over plans to build 56 semi-detached homes on a portion of the cemetery that does not contain grave sites. The ruling held that a 1913 covenant on the property “clearly and unambiguously” requires all 200 acres of the cemetery to be maintained and operated as a cemetery.

The decision reversed earlier rulings by the Court of Special Appeals and the Baltimore County Circuit Court, which sided with the cemetery owner and developers, finding that radically changed circumstances had rendered the covenant unenforceable.

The Dumbarton Improvement Association, the Long Meadow Neighborhood Association, and seven owners of Druid Ridge burial plots had gone to court in 2006 to stop development plans, touching off the years-long legal battle.

“People reasonably concluded that when the Court of Appeals decision came down, that was the end of the matter,” said Alan Zukerberg, a Pikesville community activist, adding that residents’ concerns about development there range from traffic to storm water flooding.

Waldstreicher’s two-page bill said that a covenant on a cemetery property “shall be rendered invalid by substantially changed circumstances” if at least 100 years have passed and a state highway has been built on property adjoining the cemetery. The cemetery is near Maryland Route 129/Park Heights Avenue and Interstate 695, which is maintained by the state.

Sharon Rosen, a past president of the Dumbarton Improvement Association, said lawmakers should not have involved themselves with a singular land-use issue that had been decided through the court process.

“If that’s the case, anybody could hire a lobbyist and grab the ear of somebody in the legislature — and through connections, overrule the legal process,” Rosen said.

According to the Court of Appeals decision, a company called Druid Ridge LLP intended to buy 36 acres of the cemetery to build the homes.

State paperwork for Druid Ridge LLP includes the names of Arthur Adler and Steven Sibel, both now part of the Towson-based firm Caves Valley Partners, as well as the name David S. Brown Enterprises, an Owings Mills-based developer. The Druid Ridge LLP company has not been listed with the state as an active business entity since 2015.

Neither representatives of the development firms nor the cemetery’s local management and its parent company returned messages seeking comment. Service Corporation International, a Houston-based funeral and cemetery services company, acquired the property in 2013 when it bought Stewart Enterprises.

Stewart Enterprises was the parent company of Druid Ridge Cemetery Co., which agreed to sell 36 unused acres to the developers in 1999 for $7.4 million.

Among those buried at the cemetery, established in 1896, are Thomas Rowe Price, the founder of T.Rowe Price Group; John F. Goucher, the namesake of Goucher College; Art Modell, who brought the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore to establish the Ravens; Virginia Hall, a noted World War II spy; and numerous pioneering doctors, congressmen and war heroes.

Waldstreicher introduced the bill March 11. Since it was late in the session, he had to ask the Senate permission to “suspend the rules” to expedite the legislation.

“This bill is late, as it came to me a little late from the advocates this year,” Waldstreicher told the Senate, according to a recording of the session.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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