Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Court of Appeals denies Baltimore’s ‘quick take’ attempt

Before it can proceed with a quick-take condemnation action of a Charles Street bar and package goods store, the city of Baltimore must demonstrate the reasons why it is necessary to have immediate possession of the property, the Court of Appeals held Thursday.

The decision affirms a May 19, 2006, decision by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge John Phillip Miller denying the city’s petitions for condemnation and immediate possession of the property, known as the Magnet, at 1924 N. Charles St. The city plans to use the property for redevelopment purposes in the Charles North Urban Renewal Project area.

Property owner George Valsamaki challenged the city’s attempt to seize the property. Although the petition for immediate possession by the city contained an affidavit stating that the property “must be in possession of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore at the earliest possible time in order to assist in a business expansion in the area,” no explanation was given.

The issue of an immediacy requirement in quick-take proceedings is an issue of first impression in Maryland and has not been discussed much elsewhere, Judge Dale R. Cathell remarked in the court’s 59-page opinion.

Examining the language of §21-16(d) of the Public Local Laws of Baltimore City, the court noted that a court may grant immediate possession if “it appears from a Petition for Immediate Possession … that the Public Interest requires the city to have immediate possession of said property…”

“By requiring the City to establish under oath the immediacy of the need for quick-take condemnation (as opposed to regular condemnation), the Legislature has imposed the burden of proof on the City to establish that immediate need — not imposed a burden on the property owner to prove the contrary,” Cathell wrote.

And the city, the court held, failed to meet its burden under the statute.

The court noted that the city’s affidavit may be sufficient to justify the use of regular condemnation, in which a property owner would at least receive a full measure of his or her due process rights. In the quick-take process, however, those rights are more limited.

“The extraordinary power granted to the City … was not conferred for the purpose of allowing a condemning authority to run ‘roughshod’ over the owners of private property,” Cathell wrote.