Potomac developer sues Rockville for $750K
Potomac company says city, officials hampered plans for property
A Potomac company is suing Rockville and former and current city officials for $750,000 for their roles in preventing industrial development on a 10-acre site adjacent to Lincoln Park.
Westmore Development LLC, which used to own a majority of the property at 1000 Westmore Ave., filed the suit Feb. 18 in Montgomery County Circuit Court. Westmore claims Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, Councilman John Britton, former mayors Susan Hoffmann and Larry Giammo, and former Councilman Robert Dorsey improperly hampered its efforts to further develop the property. A hearing for Rockville's motion to dismiss the case is scheduled for June 14.
Westmore claims the property, which is outside city limits but relies on Rockville for water and sewer service, would be worth considerably more if Rockville would annex the land and agree to additional industrial development.
The land, known as the WINX property because it once was home to a radio station, is valued at $5.25 million, according to state property tax records. Westmore Development owner Bob Reiver thinks that if the city consented to his plans for the land, it would be worth $10 million.
Because the property, which is being used as a truck parking lot, relies on city utilities, Rockville would have to agree to provide more water to accommodate long-term plans to build warehouses. But the City Council opposes industrial development there. In July, the council sent a letter to Montgomery County stating the city would not expand service unless the land was annexed. According to city plans, if the property is annexed, it will be designated for residential use.
"Based on the known environmental safety hazards that were brought to the attention of Mayor Giammo and the council, I could not understand how the City of Rockville could adopt a master plan that recommended residential housing for the WINX property," Reiver said.
On May 10, attorneys for the city filed paperwork with the court arguing Rockville's actions are beyond reproach. The memorandum states, among other things, the city is protected by legislative immunity and that relief for Westmore's claims cannot be granted.
"This lawsuit is a thinly veiled, if not entirely transparent, attempt by [Westmore] to intimidate and harass the City and its officials in an attempt to have them capitulate to [Westmore's] various demands for more favorable zoning or planning," the memo states. "The complaint is meritless."
Representing the city and city officials are Victoria Shearer and Richard Colaresi, of Karpinksi, Colaresi & Karp in Baltimore. Colaresi declined to comment.
The environmental concerns Reiver referenced center on the property's proximity to adjacent Washington Gas and Suburban Propane. That presents a security threat because if homes are built on the WINX property, they would be in a potential blast zone, Reiver said.
Westmore argued that city officials hid public safety information from residents and that Giammo attempted to force Reiver into selling the property below market value. Westmore says in early 2007, the company provided the City Council with information about the blast zone hazard and the council failed to relay that information to other nearby residents, according to court documents.
In an email May 9, Giammo said he was advised by attorneys not to comment.
In 2007, the council, in a partnership with Lincoln Park residents, who mostly live within a mile of the site, developed a residential plan for the WINX property. The plan called for residential housing on the property.
Reiver said he has a petition signed by Lincoln Park residents, all but two on Ashley Avenue saying they support light-industrial development.
Wilma Bell, a fourth-generation resident of Lincoln Park, lives on nearby Frederick Avenue and opposes industrial development.
"Over time, we have seen the encroachment of industrial uses that have stifled our neighborhood," she said. "It doesn't take much to figure it out. I am for the survival and preservation of Lincoln Park."
Correction: Westmore Development LLC used to own a majority of the property at 1000 Westmore Ave.