Developer Wendell Wood has filed a lawsuit against Albemarle County asking to be relieved from a requirement he pay $50,000 a year toward a commuter route operated by JAUNT.
“The county’s hard-line stance to simply try to get money from the plaintiff without any willingness to discuss its reasonableness has unfortunately led to the filing of this complaint,” attorney Pete Caramanis wrote in a pleading filed Tuesday in Albemarle County Circuit Court.
JAUNT began offering its Route 29 Express service on May 2 after the Board of Supervisors agreed last November to allow the transit provider to pursue a proffer that had gone unused for several years.
A previous board approved a rezoning for a portion of the Hollymead Town Center in 2007 to eventually allow for the construction of a commercial block now occupied by a Kohl’s department store and other retail outlets.
At the time, the rezoning had been requested by the HM Acquisition Group. One of the proffers required the developer to contribute an annual payment of $50,000 toward transit service for 10 years after the establishment of bus service.
“HMAG’s proffers were made in the midst of the largest real estate boom in the region in recent years and as part of an overall project HMAG envisioned as a much larger and more lucrative project than actually came to fruition,” Caramanis wrote.
The suit goes on to state that Route 29 LLC, a company controlled by Wood, purchased the commercial property after a foreclosure.
In 2010, Route 29 LLC sought to amend some of the proffers associated with the 2007 rezoning.
The company wanted to add a sunset clause of 2012 to the transit proffer, but the Planning Commission wanted to set a later date. Route 29 LLC dropped that request but was successful getting other amendments approved that allowed them to eventually open the Kohl’s.
In fall 2015, officials with JAUNT approached the county about operating a commuter bus route between northern Albemarle, the University of Virginia and downtown. They opted to invoke the transit proffer.
Wood objected at the time and said he felt the use of the proffer was not justified for the JAUNT route.
“[The proffer] contemplates ‘public transportation service’ being provided ‘to the project’ but the commuter route was not intended or designed to bring anyone to the property,” Caramanis wrote in the pleading.
In November, Caramanis sent a letter to the county attorney cautioning against the use of the proffer for the JAUNT service. In December, Wood submitted another rezoning request to amend the proffer and offered to pay a reduced sum.
The county sent a letter in May demanding the $50,000 payment by June 20.
“Be advised that failure to comply with proffers will constitute a zoning violation and may result in civil penalties enforced by the zoning administrator as well as withholding of building permits or plans,” senior planner Rebecca Ragsdale wrote in a May 20 letter.
The suit was filed June 21, one day after the deadline.
The lawsuit points out that the county’s Land Use Law handbook states that proffers “allow the impacts resulting from a rezoning to be better addressed.”
“There are no unique and significant impacts to public transit from the Kohl’s development on the property that can justify a required cash payment of $500,000 [over 10 years],” Caramanis wrote.
“[No one] gets on or off the bus at the property, but rather at the grocery store across the street [where] development was required to pay nothing in public transit proffers,” he added.
The suit asks that Route 29 LLC be removed from any requirement to pay the proffer and for whatever relief that the court deems appropriate.
County Attorney Greg Kamptner declined to comment for this story.
JAUNT’s executive director is Albemarle Supervisor Brad Sheffield, who recuses himself from any votes that affect his agency.