Conviction lawsuit over Westport land sought for Baltimore-DC high-speed rail project could go to trial quickly – Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge plans to move quickly to resolve a legal dispute over a large waterfront lot in Westport that could either become a subdivision or face a conviction over a high-speed rail project .

In a virtual hearing on Thursday, Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill denied a claim from the promoter fighting the condemnation bid that would have compelled Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail LLC to release a bond of $31 million.

The rail operator, planning a $10 billion project to connect Washington and Baltimore with a superconducting magnetic levitation rail system, filed the sentencing lawsuit in June 2021. He argued that the authority to take the 43-acre parcel for the railroad project through eminent domain stems from his acquisition of the former franchise Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Electric Railroad Co. in 2015.

Landowners Stonewall Capital and Westport Capital Development say the rail operator lacks the financial ability to buy the site and is interfering with its plans to build 1,300 apartments and 249 townhouses as well as shops, offices and a park, a vision embraced by community members.

Although he declined to demand a security post, Fletcher-Hill said Thursday he intended to work with the parties on planning to “get this case to a speedy trial date. We will reach a resolution one way or the other.

A jury trial will establish the value of the property as well as a deadline by which the rail operator must acquire the property and “literally put their money behind their goal if that funding is there,” Fletcher-Hill said.

During a two-hour hearing, Matthew Sturtz, a Stonewall attorney, questioned Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail’s operation as a business and its ability to buy land worth $31 million. , based on separate appraisals and construction contracts and letters of intent to purchase each of the six parcels.

Although some of the construction deals have stalled due to the “hurdle” of the lawsuit, Sturtz said, national builder NVR Homes has pledged to pay $11 million for a plot where it would build homes.

“This development is ‘a fantastic opportunity for a particular area of ​​the city of Baltimore that has long been overlooked known as Westport,'” Sturtz said.

Rapid Rail, on the other hand, has no assets, has acquired no other property between Baltimore and Washington, and has been locked in a federal approvals process that has been suspended for more than a year, Sturtz said.

He called the rail project “a futuristic vision for transportation on the East Coast, but there is no guarantee that a magnetic levitation train will ever be approved or built in this corridor.”

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Brett Ingerman, an attorney for BWRR, said the company does indeed have assets and operations and is working to secure necessary funding and approvals. It was created to help develop and bring maglev rail to part of the Eastern Corridor, he said, a venture that will generate hundreds if not thousands of jobs in Maryland and “will provide a tremendous opportunity transit between DC and New York in a very, very short time.”

Of the proposed Westport development, Ingerman said: “We don’t think this will ever happen. There is a long history of failure on this property.

The train operator believes the value of the property has gone down, even compared to the $13 million Stonewall principal Ray Jackson paid for it, Ingerman said.

Before ruling on the defendants’ motion, the judge declared that the mixed-use development and the railway project could be uses in the public interest.

“But there is no doubt that its potential development for housing and mixed-use development is closer than its development or use by the applicant. [BWRR]Fletcher-Hill said. “I’m concerned that potential speculative use of this kind, through this lawsuit, could suspend or slow down owners’ use of their own property.”

He added that legally nothing prevents Stonewall from continuing.

But “it’s an economic question,” he said. “It’s perfectly understandable that people don’t want to put shovels in the ground and start building improvements on land that is potentially going to be washed away.”

Jose P. Rogers