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.