Deal quashed

Published 9:48 pm Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The dream of having part of its ancestral land back is apparently dead for the Nansemond Indian Tribe.

City officials and an attorney for the tribe confirmed Wednesday a letter had been sent to the tribe that essentially ends talks on a transfer of land at Lone Star Lakes to the tribal association.

“The essence of it was the city is unable at this time to make a gift of the land,” said Whitney Saunders, the attorney for the tribe.

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The Nansemond Indian Tribe hoped to receive part of its ancestral grounds at the city-owned Lone Star Lakes Park, and invest about $6 million in a tourist attraction there that would have been called Mattanock Town — named for the ancestral village. The development would have included an authentic recreation of an American Indian village, along with powwow grounds, museum and tribal center.

The development originally was proposed to be 99 acres, but a more recent plan encompassed closer to 20 acres, Saunders said.

Talks regarding the land have been ongoing for 10 years. Several sticking points included a business plan for the site and a long-term lease versus the gift of the land.

City leaders wanted to see a business plan, which Saunders says was submitted during the initial phases of the request but could not be finalized until the tribe knew how much land it would receive.

A long-term lease of the land, rather than a gift, also was discussed at one time. The city wanted to include a reversion clause with either a lease or a gift, stating that the land would come back to the city if the tribe were unable to deliver on its plans.

However, Saunders says a reversion clause was unacceptable to the tribe, because it is difficult to get grants and financing if the tribe does not own the land outright.

In a City Council vote held before the new eight-member Council was instituted, Councilmen Leroy Bennett and Charles Brown voted against a transfer of the land. Six of seven members were needed to transfer public property, so the motion failed.

Saunders said the new 20-acre plan was “scaled down in response to the realities of the financing atmosphere” — not in hopes of getting the city to agree to giving away less land. The plan still contained the essential components, he added.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson, who supported the gift of the land when she represented the Sleepy Hole borough, blamed the end of talks on the economic climate.

“It’s just kind of a sign of what’s going on in the times,” she said, adding she still supports the tribe.

Both City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn and Councilman Joe Barlow, who represents the borough that includes Lone Star Lakes, referred questions to Saunders, the tribe’s attorney.

Sandy McCready, tribal secretary, called the end of talks “a shame.”

“I just feel that we’ve put a lot of time and effort into this,” she said. “It could’ve been a win-win situation for the city of Suffolk and the Nansemond tribe.”

Though Saunders said he has asked the city for a rationale and legal opinion behind its decision, both he and McCready said they infer that talks about the land are over.

“It was our impression this was the final answer,” Saunders said.

“From what I gather, it’s over with,” McCready added.

Saunders added the city “has indicated it does plan to continue to support the powwow,” an annual Nansemond event held at the land in question.

Bennett, who had joined Brown in opposing the gift of the land in the prior vote, also said the city will still support the powwow but that “the city, right now, didn’t see what we could do any further” in regards to Mattanock Town, he said.

Managing Editor Res Spears contributed to this story.