Lawsuit against city argued

Published 9:28 pm Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A lawsuit against the city and its commonwealth’s attorney was argued in court Tuesday morning, but the judge’s decision will not come until a later date.

Resident Christopher Z. Dove is suing the city and Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson, claiming the city has ignored ordinances regarding rezoning and Ferguson won’t prosecute the alleged crime.

Both the city and Ferguson asked for dismissal of the lawsuit.

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Dove claims that Cloverleaf Development hopes to include 128 single-family lots in a planned subdivision near his home off Pitchkettle Road. However, a rezoning ordinance says there will be only 78 single-family lots.

Former City Attorney Ed Roettger issued an opinion that the city cannot place conditions on rezonings other than those volunteered by the property owner and that a sentence in the ordinance containing the lower number is not legally binding.

But Dove disagrees, relying on Virginia Supreme Court decisions he interprets as saying that state localities can amend proposed proffers and cannot ignore language contained in statutes.

His lawsuit asks the court to enforce the 78-lot number, rule that violating the rezoning order and the Unified Development Ordinance was a criminal misdemeanor, order a special prosecutor to investigate city officials and Cloverleaf Development, and take legal action.

During arguments on Tuesday, Deputy City Attorney William Hutchings Jr. said Dove has no standing to bring the action and has not exhausted administrative remedies to his concerns, namely the Board of Zoning Appeals.

“We’re in the wrong place here, and there’s no cause of action,” Hutchings said.

Hutchings added that the request for a criminal investigation is out of place.

“Those just, quite frankly, don’t belong here,” he said.

Judge Rodham T. Delk seemed to agree.

“This court does not order or issue criminal charges,” Delk said.

In his argument, Ferguson said he reviewed the matter in depth and found it to be civil in nature.

“That is an exercise of discretion by the commonwealth,” Delk said. “That’s a decision legally within the commonwealth’s attorney’s scope of authority.”

Delk said the difference of opinion is political and added, “Every four years there is an election, and that is where political decisions are made.”

In his arguments, Dove said the two defendants “apparently misread my request for declaratory judgment.”

“There is simply no language that prohibits the city from amending the proffer after the public hearing,” he said, quoting a Virginia Supreme Court decision.

“Even in the face of public opposition, it was their full right to do so. The city instead said they did not have a right.”

Dove added that his property rights and rights as a citizen are being violated. His residence is 325 feet from the undeveloped parcel and 175 feet from a proposed connector road relating to the project, he said.