Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Awaiting Judge Swett's Decision on Meadow Creek Parkway land transfer

The Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park and several named plaintiffs had their day in court on the constitutionality of the transfer of Charlottesville right of way to the Virginia Department of Transfer for construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway. The primary issues explored in the six and one-half hour hearing included whether or not the plaintiffs had legal standing to bring this case, and if the land transfer was a sale of rights to city owned land that required a three-fourths (super-majority) vote to comply with Article VII, Section 9 of the Virginia Constitution. The first several hours of the trial focussed on the issue of legal standing and it wasn't until after the break (of only ten minutes) that the issues of the land transfer were considered.

I was impressed with Judge Jay Swett's handling of the case and how he on several occassions guided the three attorneys into providing him a clear understanding of their facts, resources, and points so that he would have as comprehensive a record on which to base his decision.

The facts in the case are too numerous to provide here, but Judge Swett will weigh testimony of about one dozen witnesses, and the briefs and arguments provided by the attorneys for the plaintiff, the City of Charlottesville, and the Virginia Department of Transportation. I am interested to hear the decision on the legal standing of the plaintiffs - in particular, if there are only three individuals that would have legal standing in this action as suggested by the VDOT attorney: two dissenting city councilors and one dissenting school board member voting against the transfer of the right of way. If the plaintiffs are granted legal standing for this case, then it will be of great interest to me to hear if the plain language of the VA Constitution is the basis for the decision on the number of votes necessary to sell rights to city owned property as argued by the plaintiffs.

Certainly there are a host of other issues to be considered by Judge Swett including who really owned the property - the city, the school board, both? If the property transfer was in fact a sale of rights (as argued by the plaintiffs) or a donation of rights (as argued by the city and VDOT)? If the plaintiffs should have filed suit months earlier when the ordinance was passed by council with only three affirmative votes (as argued by VDOT) or if the suit was timely being filed within a few weeks of the recording of the deed to the right of way (as argued by the plaintiffs).

As a plaintiff in this case, I believe a strong case was made that the right of way was sold to VDOT and thus four affirmative votes of council were necessary - not the three affirmative votes recorded in the June 2 council ordinance - to comply with Article VII, Section 9 of the VA Constitution. But clearly, the decision that counts here is the decision of Judge Swett. I look forward to learning his decision and what the basis of that decision is. This appears to be the first case in Virginia of this type and I am confident that Judge Swett will outline his rationale for whatever decision he makes to ensure that this precedent setting case will be a solid basis for all future cases of this type.

1 comment:

TanmoySarkar said...
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