High-Rise Developer Asks Court to Step In

By Susan DeFord
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 15, 2007

The developer of a condominium high-rise proposed for downtown Columbia has asked the circuit court to block the county Board of Appeals from deciding whether a Columbia resident can challenge the project, along Little Patuxent Parkway.

Attorneys for WCI Communities Inc. and its subsidiary, Renaissance Centro Columbia LLC, argue that long delays in building the 22-story Plaza Residences will impose "significant damage, including a substantial loss of income, a substantial increase in financing costs, and significant lost opportunity costs as the market softens." The developer is seeking a speedy hearing.

On Jan. 22, the appeals board deadlocked, 2-2, on whether Town Center resident Joel Broida could continue his appeal of the 160-unit luxury tower, which, at 275 feet, would be the tallest building in Columbia. The board said it would resume deliberations after two new members were appointed to replace a retiring member and to fill a vacant seat. The new members, Kevin Doyle and Jim Walsh, were confirmed last week.

After consulting with its attorney, however, the board voted 4-1 Monday night to postpone action until the circuit court rules on the developer's Feb. 7 complaint and motion for summary judgment. Chairman Robert Sharps, who cast the dissenting vote, said, "I think we're setting a precedent with this board."

Washington attorney S. Scott Morrison, part of the legal team representing WCI Communities, said the 2-2 vote in January eliminated Broida's standing to pursue the matter. In court filings last week, the developer's lawyers cited board rules that "failure to achieve the necessary affirmative votes shall result in the dismissal of the case."

"From our perspective, this case before the board is over," Morrison said. "The board has no legal right to go back and reopen it."

E. Alexander Adams, the Ellicott City attorney representing Broida, has argued that the county's Planning Board illegally zoned the 1.4-acre site near the intersection of Wincopin Circle and Little Patuxent Parkway for apartments. He said he will ask the court to send the matter back to the appeals board.

"They didn't exhaust the administrative remedy," he said, referring to the developer. He said the court hearings could take months.

"Who's delaying the process now?" Adams asked. "They're delaying the process because they don't want to get to the merits."

But Morrison said the developer's legal action was taken "to move the process forward more quickly."

"We want to begin construction and move forward," he said.

WCI has obtained county building permits for the $60 million project, which the company estimates would take two years. Prospective residents are reserving units priced from $625,000 to $2 million.

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