- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Developers of a project to build a Walmart Supercenter on annexed land in the town of La Plata, related parties and town residents have filed suit against the town, claiming that the town approved a referendum petition that had irregularities and violated the law.
The suit, filed Friday in the Charles County Circuit Court, includes Faison-Rosewick LLC, Johel Limited Partnership, FDC Development LLC of Bethesda, John D. Mitchell III and John and Sandra Latimer as plaintiffs, according to online court records.
The attorney representing most of the plantiffs, Michael Berman of law firm Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver in Bethesda, declined to comment.
Attorney Sue Greer, who represents Johel Limited Partnership, the entity that owns the proposed annexed property, had no comment except “Johel is looking forward to hearing the matter in court.”
Attorney Steve Scott of Scott Law Group, who represents Faison Capital Development in the annexation, said the appeal has to do with what he claims are irregularities and violations of law in the form and process of the referendum petition.
Town Manager Daniel Mears released a report on the referendum petition Feb. 28 stating that 1,323 signatures were verified, enough for a referendum. Mears wrote in the report, however, that a number of legal concerns came up in the referendum petition, including nine citizens claiming they were misled into signing their signatures, signature collectors leaving petition papers unattended in grocery stores and other concerns.
Mears wrote in the report that he would leave the legal issues up to the courts to decide.
“The opponents of the annexation talk about the legal rights in the democratic process, but they don’t mention that the landowners, developers and stakeholders have legal rights. When the process has not been done in a way consistent with those rights, it behooves us to protect the rights of the stakeholders,” Scott said.
Mitchell, who owned the former Mitchell Supply building on the annexation property south of Rosewick Road, did not immediately return a call for comment.
The Latimers, who are La Plata town residents, have an unlisted phone number.
Town Attorney Fred Sussman said the lawsuit was generally straightforward.
“As filed, this lawsuit would not stop a referendum election,” he said. “However, the plaintiffs could request the court to issue an injunction to stop the election after it has been scheduled.”
Sussman said that the state has been seeing more legal challenges of referendum petitions, and the lawsuit is consistent with that trend.
Mayor Roy Hale declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Councilwoman Paddy Mudd did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mears wrote in an email that the town had not received a copy of the lawsuit from the court as of Monday evening.
Mears wrote that no date for the referendum has been set yet.
In an email to council members, Mears wrote that the town is looking to do a paper ballot instead of a machine ballot because the Charles County Board of Elections is not allowing the town to borrow its voting machines.
Attorney Traci Scudder of the Law Offices of Traci Scudder in Bowie, who represents the referendum petitioners, did not respond immediately for comment.
La Plata town resident Michael Runfola, who gathered signatures for the referendum petition, said that the annexation petitioners were doing anything to hold back the democratic process and that the town inflicted wounds on itself by the way it handled the referendum petition.
Runfola said that if the town had answered the questions of referendum petitioners asking “how do you want us to word this thing,” just as they did back during the annexation now containing the unbuilt Heritage Green development, it would not be an issue.
Instead, Runfola said, the town told the referendum petitioners to go to the state for guidance.