City Council issues ultimatum on Mattanock Town

Published 11:42 pm Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The City Council on Wednesday issued a deadline less than six months from now for the Nansemond Indian Tribal Association to sign a development agreement for the tribe’s proposed Mattanock Town project.

More than two years have passed since the council voted to transfer land in the city’s Lone Star Lakes Park to the tribe, whose ancestral village was located on or near the land in the early 1600s before the tribe was run off by European settlers.

The tribal association plans a tourist attraction there with an authentic replica of an Indian village, a museum and gift shop, tribal center, nature trails and more.

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But the tribe has refused to sign the agreement, which it says represents a long-term lease, rather than an outright transfer. The tribe is concerned some unusual stipulations in the agreement would prevent it from obtaining financing for the project.

Fed up with the delay, City Council voted unanimously to issue a June 30 deadline for the tribe to sign the agreement.

“I’m terribly shocked,” said Dot Dalton, a project liaison for the tribe. “I never expected this.”

The proposed agreement includes stipulations that the tribe’s plans would have to be approved by the city in advance, outside of the regular permit processes that apply. Any changes would have to be approved by the city, and the tribe would have to make the facilities available for city functions without charge.

The agreement also includes a clause stating that the property will revert to the city if construction of the project is not completed — not commenced, but completed — within five years from the transfer.

Dalton said the tribe has no problem with the “reverter clause” but objects to other issues, such as the city’s refusal to transfer ownership of portions of the Nansemond River, on which the property sits.

Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said the city has done other deals with reverter clauses, such as for the old Obici Hospital site and the Fairgrounds redevelopment. To date, nothing has been built at the old Obici site — though not because of the reverter clause, Roberts said — and only three houses in the Fairgrounds development have been completed.

Roberts said the development agreement is substantially unchanged from what the tribe agreed to in 2007 and 2010, the major tenets of which were discussed in public meetings. But Dalton says the tribe never saw the agreement before the November 2010 vote to approve the transfer, and the tribe’s lawyers have advised them not to sign it as is.

Roberts added that if the agreement is not signed by June 30, the agreement is off the table. He did not yet know if that would prevent it from ever being discussed again.

Some City Council members on Wednesday expressed support for the project but said it needs to move forward.

“I’m in favor of the project, but I will say this: There’s got to be a little trust on both sides,” Councilman Charles Parr said. “I think a lot of times, people can’t get the past out of their heads.”

Some council representatives seemed to suggest a meeting including Mayor Linda T. Johnson and other city representatives, as well as tribal leadership and representatives, would be helpful.

Johnson seemed amenable to the suggestion.

“Everybody knows I support the project,” she said. “I think we really want to see it happen; we just need to make sure it does happen.”

Dalton said the tribe “would be glad to meet with the mayor and have our legal representation there.”