Judge says city's Ferrell Parkway bid process a 'sham'
For the 2nd time in a year, a judge has ruled the city violated the law involving Ferrell Parkway.
Friday, Circuit Court Judge Patricia West called the city's latest attempt to circumvent her original ruling, blocking sale of the property, a 'sham bidding process' by trying to lease the Ferrell Parkway right-of-way to the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).
The whole case is wrapped in interlocking, good ole boy relationships involving Councilman Louis Jones, dodging a legal conflict of interest problem, his ties to partners in the questionable Lotus Creek Development project, and their combined relationships in the sole source bidding that assured Armada Hoffler would get the publicly subsidized housing/retail project contract at the so-called Town Center.
In the original case, West ruled the city acted illegally in trying to sell FWS the public's right of way. That case is under appeal to the state Supreme Court.
In the interim the city decided if it couldn't sell the property, it would lease it to FWS for 40-years @ $1/yr.
The law, West said, is not specific in prohibiting the city from leasing property, but the Virginia Constitution does require the bidding process to be fair and legitimate.
West said City Manager James K. Spore's own testimony proved the bidding process was designed to bail out a private developer for special advantage of FWS.
The city required the purchase of a private, swampy subdivision by the successful bidder, but that wasn't disclosed to the public at the time of the bid.
Bidding criteria was designed to assure that only FWS would be the successful bidder.
Lawyer Samuel Meekins, representing Friends of Ferrell Parkway and Andrea Kilmer in both cases, said after Friday's ruling: "This is a great victory for the citizens of the city because if this lease had been allowed, we would have ceded all growth control rights to the FWS.
"This was a big win for us and I applaud Judge West for such a courageous decision," Meekins said.
Donald Clark, a private lawyer hired by the city to represent its interests, said, "I think the judge committed a reversible error. In fact I think she committed reversible errors in both cases."
Clark said he would have to talk to his clients (the city council) before making a decision on whether to appeal the latest ruling, however.
Clark has already appealed Judge West's original ruling blocking the illegal sale of the property. He said he argued the city's case before the state Supreme Court Thursday. If the court subsequently agrees with Judge West, upholds her ruling, the sale issue is dead. Clark he said he expects to get a decision from the court on whether to accept the case in a 'couple months.'
The intriguing case has more twists and turns than a Pungo corn maze. To cover up past errors in approving the Lotus Creek development in a swampy area of the city, the city decided it needed a way out.
The FWS had opposed city plans to build a new, safer highway into exclusive Sandbridge on right-of-way it acquired for Ferrell Parkway which has been on the books in one form or another for 30-years.
FWS, following a long-standing policy dating back almost 30 years, is hell bent to 'grab' as much land as possible around the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge so the feds can control all future growth in the southern end of the city.
[FYI - FWS used deceit, chicanery, and outright lies under the guise of popular environmental protection in the 1970s to stop the public's long and historical use of the Back Bay National Wildlife beach. Once the beach was closed to vehicular traffic, FWS slowly added other prohibited activities in direct conflict to what it promised during public hearings to gain public support for stopping vehicle use.]
FWS told the city that if the city would give it the Ferrell Parkway right of way, FWS would support the city's effort to expand and improve dangerous, curvy, existing Sandbridge Road, the only access to the city's southern beaches. In addition FWS said it would 'swap' some of its property along Sandbridge Road to the city and not file environmental objections for the Sandbridge Road improvements.
In the meantime, the city saw an opportunity to get FWS to bail it out of a bad politically unpopular deal by requiring the successful purchaser (and later successful bidder for long term lease) to buy the swampy private subdivision development property, worth less than $625,000 according to city tax records, for a whopping $2.86M.
To complete the deal the city would pay the private property owners $140,000. Ironically, prior to Dec. 1, Lotus Creek Associates owed taxes totaling almost that amount which they hadn't paid in three years, according to tax records.
In challenging the lease as a means of circumventing Judge West's original ruling, Meekins forced City Manager Spore to admit from the witness stand that the city had conducted 'back channel' conversations over details with FWS at the exclusion of any others who might have been interested in bidding.
In issuing her bench ruling Friday, West said Spore left out 'critical information' for other potential bidders and never put the full terms and conditions in the public bid.
Spore admitted on the stand that FWS's bid was contingent on it purchasing the Lotus Creek Subdivision development project which made it impossible for others to bid, West ruled.