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August 8, 2011

Judge tosses tree suit, urges city be more open

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge dismissed a Bolton Hill resident's bid for an injunction to prevent any more more trees from being removed to accommodate the Baltimore Grand Prix, but she appealed to the city to be more forthcoming about plans to replace them.

Judge Evelyn O. Cannon ruled that David C. Troy lacked legal standing to sue the city, and in any case was suing the wrong party, since the city itself didn't remove the trees. She also questioned the urgency of Troy's court quest, since city officials have said no more trees need to be cut down or moved.

City officials had declared on Friday that tree removal had been limited to 31 along the race course, down from the 50 they'd said earlier in the week would be taken.

It was disclosed at the hearing, though, that another nine trees are to be moved from in front of the Hilton Hotel on West Pratt Street. City officials said those were on private property and not subject to the agreement the city had negotiated with Baltimore Racing Development, the organizer of the tree-day street race downtown on Labor Day weekend.

Troy, a software developer, had protested the tree removal after seeing a photograph in The Baltlimore Sun Monday showing trees being cut down on West Pratt Street and readinng that a race official said 136 trees were being removed. He also drafted an online petition, which had garnered more than 4,000 signatures by this morning. Frustsrated by an inability to see the agreement the city had negotiated with the race for tree removal and planting, and by the shifting numbers of trees being taken, he filed suit Friday and sought an injunction.

Cannon said there was no legal basis for granting the injunction, and lectured Troy on the shortcomings of the complaint he drew up himself. But the judge also urged city officials to be more forthcoming about their arrangements with the racing organization to replace the cut trees and plant more.

Racing officials say they plan to plant 59 new trees along the race course, plus another 139 around downtown, and they have pledged to pay for another 5,000 saplings to be used as the city sees fit. But the memorandum of understanding detailing the deal has not been released, with city officials saying it's not official until it's been reviewed by lawyers and signed.

"I think in the long run it would be helpful," the judge said, if the city would provide Troy and other protestors with the agreement and details on what trees are being taken and what ones planted, and how they're to be cared for. If that was done, she added, "everybody just might be able to sleep better."  Matthew Nayden, the city's lawyer, complained at first that Troy, a supporter of mayoral candidate Otis Rolley, was making political hay with the tree flap and accusing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of wrongdoing.  But the judge responded that none of that was in the lawsuit and renewed her suggestion - Nayden said he would contact Troy later.

Troy acknowledged after the hearing that his case had been "rough around the edges,'' but he said he didn't regret bringing it. He said he believed that had he not rallied protests against the cutting, more trees would have come down.

UPDATE: Late Monday, the city provided Troy the signed memorandum of understanding with Baltimore Racing Development over tree removal and planting.  He shared it.  To read it, go here.

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 1:22 PM | | Comments (11)
        

Comments

1) If Dave Troy doesn't have legal standing to sue the City, who does?

2) Is there ANYTHING WHATSOEVER preventing the BGP group from cutting down more trees on public property? It seems to me the judge's argument was basically "don't worry about it, the city will work it out." And on what grounds is THAT a realistic assumption?

3) Did the judge dispute the claim that the trees were chopped down without the required 5-day posted notice?

4) If the claim in #3 is correct, who should be punished for that, and how?

The judge may be right on the technicalities here, but there seems to be no way to hold the City or BGP organizers accountable. That is disturbing.

What is a Bolton Hill resident suing the city for? This race track, from what I know, is no where near Bolton Hill, so how is this affecting him?

TW: He argued that what the city does downtown affects him and every other resident, even if he does live a mile from it. The judge said he may very well have legitimate reason to feel aggrieved, but that wasn't sufficient under Maryland law to grant him an injunction..

Completely uncalled for. I don't care how many trees they want to plant to replace the ones they cut. A good samaritan or anyone with love for the Earth would volunteer the new trees without the destruction of the old. And for what? To have the ability to see cars going around polluting our Earth even more. It makes me highly distressed to think about the fact that our government is for such destructive acts. Of course then again, their probably the ones who eat the shark fin soup.

Chris, I have no dog in this fight but I'll help you out:
1) The judge did not actually reach the standing issue. But there is a long line of case law, including some very recent case law, on the topic. She did comment that she strongly doubted that Mr. Troy has standing to pursue these claims base upon the facts that he alleged.
2) The Judge did not make an argument. The parties did. And she found that one of them was legally insufficient. And "not close." The complaint failed on a number of grounds: lack of a necessary party (Balt Grand Prix and the hotel), failure to state a claim (see #3 below), etc.
3) No. She read the code provision that the plaintiffs sued under. It does not provide them any relief, does not apply to the Mayor's office, and does not govern private parties. She found that on its face that section of the code did not apply. There was little debate after the section was read aloud.
4) N/A.

There may be other causes of action available, but not the ones in the complaint and articulated at the hearing.

TW, glad we found the elevator. It was an interesting lunch break.

(TW: and thanks Scott, for rescuing a "lost" reporter)

If the city had done all this through the Baltimore Development Corporation, the documents and agreements could have easily disappeared forever (as every secret thing done down there does.) They should have planned better in pushing this through.

@ TW - In that case, I live in Baltimore County and it's affecting me. What's the difference? I just think, on his part, it's fivolous.

Eh. Lot of fuss over some ratty honey locusts moldering in arid, heavily compacted soil. Seems like a great opportunity to install some decent, properly irrigated tree pits on Pratt and plant a species that's more than just a step above ailanthus. Yeah, I'm a specie-ist. Sue me.

Thanks for the reply, SR.

Please read the comments we prepared in association with this action today. The bottom line is that our actions changed the outcome and shined a light on what otherwise would have been just another back-room deal.

Also, at no time did Judge Cannon suggest that our complaint was frivolous – in fact she empathized with our concerns. But she did not believe we met the legal standard for a TRO, which, given the City's and BRD's constantly shifting stance, we did not. Fair enough.

https://www.facebook.com/notes/trees-before-grand-prix/everyone-would-sleep-better-at-night-if-you-released-the-memorandum-of-understan/258962364133137

Hey, this is Baltimore. This is Maryland. The powers-that-be can do whatever they want. We are such suckers!

This afternoon the Baltimore City Commission on Sustainability sent a letter to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake that expresses the Commission's position on the impact of the Baltimore Grand Prix on Baltimore's tree canopy.

To view a full copy of the letter visit: http://tinyurl.com/4yz8qso

We support the City posting the Memorandum of Understanding on both the Office of Sustainability’s and Baltimore Racing Development’s websites, so that the public may be better informed of the City’s efforts to promote sustainable growth. We feel that it is in the best interest of the City to continue to be as transparent as possible with City residents, who are commendably and understandably concerned about the landscape of their City.

The Commission pledges to monitor the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding, and ensure that it is followed accordingly. We are eager to take advantage of the significant economic and environmental opportunities that await us during this multi-year process.

Commission on Sustainability
http://www.baltimoresustainability.org/about/commission.aspx

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for Baltimoresun.com. She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.
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