Historic District Faces Development Pressure
Developer Larry Jennings loses his $25 million suit against Clipper Mill residents
Lawyer for defendants hails the ruling as an affirmation of freedom of speech at public hearings
Above: Developer Larry E. Jennings Jr. during a 2016 interview. (YouTube)
A prominent businessman has failed in his efforts to sue Baltimore residents for $25 million to punish them for testifying against his development plans at public hearings.
According to an online filing, Circuit Court Judge John Nugent granted the request by residents of the Clipper Mill community to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Larry E. Jennings.
Nugent issued the decision last week, but it wasn’t “docketed,” or made official in the Judiciary Case Search online file, until today.
Thomas Minton, who represented some of the residents, said he had not seen the judge’s opinion, if there is one, but was pleased with the ruling.
“If the court docket entry is 100% accurate, we have won the case, and it has been dismissed and cannot be re-pled,” he said. “If that’s all true, that’s exactly what we asked for.”
During a virtual court hearing in October, Minton castigated Jennings’ suit as a textbook example of an illegal SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) intended to silence criticism and stifle free speech.
The judge’s dismissal indicates that Maryland’s anti-SLAPP statute did its job, Minton said.
• Clipper Mill court hearing lifts veil on developer’s tactics to keep residents in line (10/24/20)
“The statute that we relied on principally is designed to eliminate the chilling effect that lawsuits have on public comment” in courts and public hearings, he said. “So hopefully, the fact that the case is dismissed is consistent with our view of the statue.”
Jennings and his lead attorneys, David Applefeld and Richard Goldberg, did not respond to requests for comment.
Tapped by Brandon Scott
Jennings is the senior managing director of ValStone Partners, which owns various parcels at the Clipper Mill complex in Woodberry.
He has been locked in battles with residents over his plans to turn the historic Tractor Building into apartments and to construct 30 “stacked” townhouses at the Poole and Hunt lot nearby.
Last month, Jennings revealed he was behind the teardown of two 1840s millworker houses – done without legally required public posting – that prompted residents to push the city to designate Woodberry as a local historic district. The designation became official last July.
A developer who specializes in distressed debt and value investing, Jennings was today named a member of incoming Mayor Brandon M. Scott’s transition team.
Jennings will serve on the Housing and Neighborhood Development Committee, which is charged with crafting recommendations to increase access to affordable housing.
The Housing Committee is one of 10 groups that Scott says will guide him “in the coming months as we build a new way forward for Baltimore.” The committee is co-chaired by developers Richard Manekin and Ernst Valery.
Scott will take office on December 8, while Jennings has 30 days to file an appeal of Nugent’s ruling.
– Mark Reutter contributed to this story.