The City of Malden heads to court next week for a showdown with Hallmark Health over safety violations at the Malden Hospital property. In 2013 former Malden Building Inspector Scott Fitzgerald cited Hallmark Health, which owns the hospital, for the building’s disconnected fire sprinklers, water damage, insufficient emergency exit lighting and changes to the fire alarm system. Hallmark responded with a lawsuit against the City, demanding that the violations be dismissed. Malden countersued and asked the court to require Hallmark to fix the problems and pay the City’s legal fees.
Three years and scores of billable hours later, a judge and jury are scheduled to resolve the issues in Middlesex Superior Court.
Back in 2013, when Fitzgerald issued those citations, the hospital was a hot topic at City Hall. Councillors were floating the idea of taking the property by eminent domain. There were complaints about trash at the site, and concerns about fires and break-ins. City officials also expressed frustration that Hallmark wanted any potential buyer to pay to raze the building and clean up the site.
Hallmark has argued that the safety violations were part of an attempt by the City to gain control over the redevelopment of the property. The company bolstered that claim with complaints that the City continually demanded information about the property’s sales price and the conditions of a purchase and sales agreement with Fellsmere Housing Group, which is hoping to build more than 300 homes and residential units on Hospital Hill.
Late last month, Hallmark won a round in court when a judge denied the City’s emergency motion to dismiss the company’s complaint and pay Malden’s legal bills. And there was more.
“Given the confidentiality provisions of the purchase and sales agreement and the issues that are involved in this litigation, I find that the disclosures sought by the City are not warranted,” wrote the judge in response to the City’s motion. Although the judge concluded the City’s legal strategy was not motivated by politics, Hallmark’s request to keep the purchase and sales agreement under wraps was granted.
In order for Fellsmere Housing Group to move forward with its plan to redevelop the hospital property with residential housing, the zoning for the site would need to be changed to allow multifamily construction. Currently, the property is zoned for single-family homes. And Hallmark needs to clear the safety violations that the City continues to maintain against the company and the site.