Supreme Court upholds Judge West's ruling City Council acted illegally
The Virginia Supreme Court Friday announced it had denied Virginia Beach's appeal of Circuit Court Judge Patricia West's ruling that the city acted illegally in trying to sell the public's Ferrell Parkway right-of-way to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
On Feb. 27, the council in a 7-3-1 count voted to sell the right-of-way that had been acquired over a 20-plus year period for construction of a modern, safe highway access to the city's southern beaches to FWS. The money would be coupled with $140,000 from city coffers to pay owners of a troubled, swampy development complex $3 million for inclusion into FWS's Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Councilwomen Margaret Eure, Reba McClanan, and Rosemary Wilson voted against the convoluted, complicated deal. Councilman Louis Jones, citing a conflict of interest, abstained. (See: Ferrell Parkway: Federal land grab and political payoff? Web of intrigue surrounds issue)
The city's hired outside legal gun, lawyer Donald Clark had argued the city's case December 13 in an attempt to establish reversible error for the full Supreme Court to hear arguments to overturn Judge West's ruling. The next day he said that he was confident there was evidence for overturning Judge West.
The court disagreed. In its normal terse language, the court announced: "Upon review of the record in this case and consideration of the argument submitted in support of and in opposition to the granting of an appeal, the Court is of opinion there is no reversible error in the judgment complained of. Accordingly, the Court refuses the petition for appeal."
Clark wasn't the only one who disagreed with Judge West. In August when the council was proposing to try to circumvent her February ruling blocking the sale by leasing the property to FWS, an irate Councilman William H. Harrison stated:
Contacted to comment on the ruling Friday afternoon, Harrison said:
Sam Meekins, attorney representing Friends of Ferrell Parkway and Andrea Kilmer, said, "We feel very pleased with the court's decision."
In obvious reference to the negative comments made by members of council, particularly Harrison, Meekins went on to say, "We feel vindicated, especially following the caustic remarks made by members of the Virginia Beach City Council, following Virginia Beach Circuit Court Judge Patricia West's ruling against the city."
Involved in the convoluted deal was a scheme contrived by City Manager James K. Spore to salvage the privately-owned Lotus Creek housing development project by buying it for $3 million in tax dollars. The city only had the property assessed for $607,194 from owners Lotus Creek Associates. (See also: Chart showing web of characters)
By state law, the city is required to assess real estate property at 100% of its market value. The city has assessed the Lotus Creek property at only $607,194. The developers want to sell it to taxpayers for $3M.
In addition, it was revealed Lotus Creek Associates hadn't paid any real estate taxes on the property for more than 3 years. As of this week, the partnership owes the city $211,995 plus legal fees after City Treas. John Atkinson turned the bills over to his collection attorney.
Spore's plan to lease the property to FWS has also suffered a setback. Last week, in a separate challenge brought by residents opposed to the giveaway of public land, Judge West called the city's process to bid the lease a 'sham' and ruled the action again was illegal and unconstitutional.
The city is contemplating appealing that ruling to the Supreme Court. All this while the taxpayer's outside legal bill is skyrocketing into the tens of thousands of dollars as the city continues to lose every case it brings to court.
Virginian-Pilot Columnist Kerry Dougherty recently quipped in a column: "Either the Virginia Beach City Council is getting lousy legal advice and heeding it, or it's getting good legal advice and ignoring it."
(Persons noting errors of facts in VNS news stories are requested to email the editor at: Editor@virginianewssource.com or call 757-340-4686)