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Jon Laria, Managing Partner of Ballard Spahr, LLP. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz).

Attorney: Appeals board delaying 25th Street Station development

A prominent attorney has complained that delays by a city appeals board, which he attributed in part to attendance issues, are causing his client’s development plan to be “enormously prejudiced,” an allegation Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration denies.

Jon Laria, an attorney representing the developers of the proposed 25th Street Station shopping center, made his comments last week before the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, after he said he felt compelled to delay a hearing on the project for a second time.

“This is part of the appeals [process] that needs to be addressed,” Laria said.

But Kaliope Parthemos, deputy chief in the city’s Office of Economic and Neighborhood Development, strongly disputed that there are issues caused by attendance or by board members not being sworn in in a timely fashion.

She said delays like those experienced by Laria are not common, and that there are not a large number of cases being delayed or postponed because board members leave early or are not able to attend.

“If anything, there were a handful of cases over the past several years,” Parthemos said.

According to attendance numbers collected by David Tanner, the executive director of the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, since January 2012 the board has met 55 times. During that time, he said, there were only about five instances where only three members of the five-person board were present at a hearing. Last week’s hearing, he said, was the first time in 2014 that so few board members were in attendance.

One of four board members in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing had to leave for a prior engagement before the docket was completed because the previous case took nearly three hours to finish. That left only three of the five members to hear the appeal from some Remington residents of an earlier decision to extend the timeline for 25th Street Station development.

Geoffrey Washington, the chairman of the appeals board, asked Laria if he would object to the case proceeding and being decided by only three members. Laria did not object, but opponents of the shopping center development said they did not believe it was right for the board to hear the issue, and if the case moved forward it was under their objection.

Because of past experience — there are currently seven appeals regarding the 25th Street Station project in court — Laria said he decided not to go ahead with the hearing. In the lobby afterward, he was not as critical and downplayed the impact of the delay.

“We have a very strong case on the merits for this extension, and there’s really no point in adding a procedural hurdle to it,” Laria said. “So, we look forward to a hearing sometime in the next few weeks, we’ll get rescheduled, we’ll come in, we’ll make our argument and we’re confident the board will gives us the extension we’re seeking.”

During a Wednesday session with reporters, Rawlings-Blake said she was aware of issues with the appeals board, and said her administration was trying to address the problem.

“It is an issue that we’re working on, and we’re working on getting them approved and getting (board members) sworn in so we can have continuity,” Rawlings-Blake said.

But in an interview late last week, Parthemos said the mayor’s comments were made because people had been contacting her about the problem, not because there was an actual issue.

“When the mayor told you that she was aware of the issue it was because people were contacting her and telling her there was an issue with the zoning board because her appointees were not sworn in,” Parthemos said.

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