NRHA seeks appeal in eminent domain case: The (Hampton Roads VA) Virginian-Pilot, 8/24/05

By Battinto Batts

The [Norfolk] housing authority has asked the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn a decision regarding a used auto parts lot the agency wants to acquire through eminent domain.

To help argue its appeal, the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority has retained a high-powered Richmond attorney – William G. Broaddus, a former state attorney general and partner in the firm McGuireWoods LLP.

The housing authority has been trying to acquire Downtown Used Auto Parts, at 316 E. 22nd St., as part of a conservation plan for the city’s midtown area. The housing authority declared the 1.3-acre lot blighted in 1988. But Norfolk Circuit Judge John C. Morrison Jr. ruled in April that the agency overstepped its power in seeking to acquire the lot and didn’t give the owner, Charles Andrews, an opportunity to fix the property’s deficiencies.

In the ruling, Morrison said he was troubled most by the authority’s 15-year delay between declaring the property blighted and seeking to acquire it. Andrews has refused the NRHA’s $560,000 offer.

The property is near the Mid-Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Co. plant. Although no plans have been released, it is thought that Andrews’ land is sought to provide space for more parking at the plant.

Attorneys representing the authority filed the petition with the state supreme court last week. The agency must now wait to hear whether the court will hear the case.

When that decision might come is anyone’s guess, said Donald Schultz, one of the housing authority’s attorneys. “It is hard to tell. It’s on the court’s schedule.”

Neither Schultz nor officials with the housing authority would comment on the addition of Broaddus to the legal team. Broaddus is recovering from surgery and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Joseph Waldo, the attorney representing Andrews, called the authority’s hiring of Broaddus an act of desperation. “Obviously they have hired one of Richmond’s biggest guns,” Waldo said. “I respect Bill Broaddus. They wouldn’t have hired him if they didn’t believe they were in deep trouble.”

Agency officials and their legal counsel have refused to speculate how the decision in this case might affect other NRHA conservation districts. Waldo said Morrison’s ruling cannot serve as a precedent because the facts of each subsequent case should be considered on their own merit.

“We don’t think it is important as far as precedent, except that it does show they can be beat,” Waldo said. “Each case is fact-specific. That’s why we think the city’s position is so out of line.”

The acquisition of land is important to redevelopment efforts, said Tim Polk, the city’s planning director. This might explain why the housing authority continues to pursue this case.

“We are 98 percent built out,” Polk said. “We don’t have any vacant land. To be able to put parcels like that together for development is necessary. Not to have that ability will limit what we can do. We have a lot of stuff whose use is outdated, that would never be able to generate the kind of tax dollars needed to support the area. I would think it would be advantageous for us to be able to have that property.”

The Virginian-Pilot: http://home.hamptonroads.com