ELKTON– The Town of Elkton agreed Tuesday afternoon to settle a lawsuit brought by two citizens challenging the concessions made by the town to accomodate a proposed senior citizens housing project, after a Circuit Court judge refused the town’s motion to dismiss the case.
After the ruling by visiting judge Raymond E. Beck to let the case go forward, both sides hammered out an agreement under which the town conceded it lacked the proper legal authority under town ordinances last December when it granted concessions and waivers of fees to an unrelated property at 110 Collins Street, owned by Cecil Bank, and sought to transfer those waivers to the Elkton Senior Housing Project on High Street. The town also agreed to pay $4,000 in legal bills incurred by the plaintiffs, Robert Litzenberg and James Nicholson.
In addition, the developer of the project, the Ingerman Group, of New Jersey, agreed not to sue Litzenberg and Nicholson. Keith Baynes, the attorney representing Litzenberg and Nicholson, told the court that the developer had threatened to sue his clients for speaking out about and filing their lawsuit over the town’s handling of the project.
But evidence presented in court also showed that the Town of Elkton has been busy changing ordinances in recent weeks to accomodate the developers, in what appeared to be a back up plan in case the town lost the lawsuit. So, while previous town approvals and concessions for the project were voided by the court settlement, the town, the developer and other interested business interests will get a “do-over” under recently revised ordinances tailored to fit the senior housing project.
Before the agreement was reached, Judge Beck observed, “It seems that whenever a mistake was found you’re (the town) backing up and changing the ordinances.” It appeared that the town was saying, “can we make it all retroactive” when the question, the judge said, was really “shouldn’t they have to start all over again?”
As a result of the settlement, that is exactly what will have to happen: the developer and Cecil Bank, the owner of the Collins street property that is to be sold to the developer under a separate agreement, will get a “do-over” through the town review process. Given the town board’s support of the project, the outcome is hardly in doubt. But opponents will have a chance to raise more questions in public meetings.
(The Cecil Times will be filing a more detailed report, including information on the more than $6 million in federal taxpayer funds allocated to this project and its speedy progress through the state/federal approval process, despite the fact that the project was far from “shovel ready,” as mandated by the special economic stimulus funds allocated to it.)