Ajoke Agboola, currently a clerk for the Honorable Marcella A. Holland of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City who is interested in focusing on land use and real estate after her clerkship, contributed the following summary of Benn Ray, et al. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore:
The highly praised and criticized plan to build a Wal-Mart in Remington appears to be moving forward after a lawsuit between the owner of the property, Bruce Mortimer, and the developer, Rick Walker, was settled. This was not the only lawsuit delaying progress of the development of 25th and Howard streets; a lawsuit challenging an ordinance that approved the Planned Unit Development (PUD) of ‘25th Street Station’ also caused major setbacks.
Early this year, Benn Ray, et al. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, was decided by the Court of Appeals. The case centered on the standing of petitioners who sought judicial review of Baltimore City Council’s approval of the PUD authorizing the mixed use development of an 11.5 acre tract of land in Remington. Petitioner, Benn Ray, claimed the PUD would dramatically increase traffic and that a Wal-Mart would change the character of his neighborhood. Petitioner, Brendan Coyne, agreed. Coyne’s main assertion was that the planned Wal-Mart would change the character of his neighborhood and force out many local businesses. The Mayor and the City Council of Baltimore, along with the developer, filed a motion to dismiss based on the petitioners’ lack of standing.
According to the PUD ordinance, any person who is aggrieved by a decision of the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals or a zoning action by the City Council may appeal to the Circuit Court of Baltimore City for judicial review. A person whose property is adjoining, confronting or nearby the property at issue is deemed prima facie aggrieved. A person whose property is far removed from the subject property is ordinarily not considered an aggrieved person unless he meets the burden of alleging and proving that his personal or property rights are specially and adversely affected.
In affirming the Circuit Court’s dismissal of the case, the Court of Appeals noted that proximity to the subject property is the most important factor for the Court to consider. Subsequently, the Court found that the petitioners, both located over 2000 feet from the PUD were not prima facie aggrieved and that both failed to prove that they were specially aggrieved in a manner different than the general public. Specifically, the Court rejected the petitioners’ argument that the entire neighborhood should be considered an aggrieved class and, in line with its previous decisions, found that increased traffic and neighborhood character changes were insufficient to justify standing when the petitioner has not first satisfied the proximity factor.
Now that there no longer appears to be any legal challenges encumbering this project, this PUD may finally be moving forward and a Wal-Mart may be coming to a neighborhood near you.