“You have to expect things to take longer than anticipated and manage a pro bono case just like any other case.” - Gregory E. Rapisarda
Residents in Southeast Baltimore will soon have a neighborhood community center due in part to the diligence and advocacy of a local pro bono attorney.
And it started with an e-mail.
In the Spring of 2011, attorney Gregory E. Rapisarda, of Saul Ewing, LLP, contacted the Community Law Center (CLC) after reading a listserv-based e-mail seeking an attorney willing to take on a conditional use zoning case.
CLC, a nonprofit law firm whose work is dedicated to providing legal services to nonprofit organizations throughout the state, sought out a pro bono attorney to represent Banner Neighborhoods, a nonprofit entity focused on reinforcing and improving 10 communities in Southeast Baltimore City. CLC’s Pro Bono Program was able to find the perfect match for the nonprofit in Rapisarda thanks to his extensive knowledge of Maryland’s land use and zoning laws coupled with his enthusiasm to take on a pro bono client.
Attorney Kristine Dunkerton, CLC’s Executive Director, explains the importance of placing pro bono attorneys with nonprofit organizations by noting, “rather than spending substantial resources on legal representation, nonprofits represented through Community Law Center’s Pro Bono Program can use more of their donations to carry out their good works in the community.”
Helping Banner Neighborhoods achieve their “good works” was exactly what Rapisarda set out to accomplish by taking on the zoning case. However, once he delved into the case the volunteer attorney discovered zoning issues that dated back 50 years. In order for Banner Neighborhoods to acquire zoning approval, these issues could not be ignored.
The case required working with both Baltimore City’s Planning Department and Zoning Board to ensure that each respective agency’s codes and provisions were addressed and met.
When asked if he was flustered upon discovering the complexity of the case, Rapisarda explains, “You have to expect things to take longer than anticipated and manage a pro bono case just like any other case; you can’t treat it any differently.”
In late May of this year, a full year after initially replying to CLC’s e-mail, Rapisarda successfully obtained zoning approval for Banner Neighborhoods to revitalize a vacant building in the 2900 block of Pulaski Highway. The nonprofit intends to turn the building into a multi-purpose center, containing offices for staff and volunteers, an enhanced space for youth, and a meeting place for members of the surrounding community.
Attributing his impetus to do pro bono work to his parents, Rapisarda notes that working with CLC and Banner Neighborhoods was both personally and professionally fulfilling.
“Banner Neighborhoods is a great organization, and it is really exciting to see them settle into a space of their own,” he states. “By taking on this case I also was able to enhance my experience in zoning work and strengthen my relationships with the BMZA (Board of Municipal Zoning Appeals) and Baltimore’s zoning and planning agencies.”
In retrospect, one can see how a simple reply to an email over a year ago has touched the lives of so many people. Having the aspiration to take on a pro bono case and see it through has affected not only Banner Neighborhoods’ staff and the people of Southeast Baltimore, but Rapisarda himself as well.
For more information on volunteer legal services opportunities in Maryland, contact Jennifer Larrabee at the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carey Moore is the Communications Manager of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.