Waterfront commission wades into boat club property dispute

Waterfront commission wades into boat club property dispute

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Examining the differing plans for the Old Dominion Boat Club’s disputed riverside parking lot last week, members of the city waterfront commission were left with one overriding question: Can’t we compromise?

“If the city plan has a 11,500-square-foot parking lot [in its proposal] and the ODBC wants 18,600, why not plan for it to be 15,000 square feet and just move on?” asked commissioner David Speck at a November 7 meeting.

That question — which was greeted with nods by other waterfront commissioners — delved straight into the heart of the longstanding disagreement. After years of failed negotiations, officials announced last month that City Hall would consider using eminent domain to transform much of the parking lot into a public plaza.

In preparation for a special city council hearing Tuesday on eminent domain, the waterfront commission took stock of the latest offer and counteroffer on the club’s property. The commissioners hope to finalize their recommendations before next week’s meeting.

The city’s most recent proposal — offered in June — calls for the boat club to sell part of the property. As such, the organization keeps its parking lot, though reduced by half in size.

On the other side, Eric DeSoto, chairman of the boat club, reiterated his group’s counter-proposal at the commission meeting. That plan would see the organization lease part of the land to the city and keep the parking lot at 18,600 square feet, down from 23,000 square feet.

He also wanted eminent domain taken off the table.

“It would be in the best interest of the city, the ODBC and taxpayers to have further good-faith negotiations and that eminent domain is neither considered nor discussed at this time,” DeSoto said.

But Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks said the city’s offer already serves as a compromise.

“Remember, the city’s proposal in the waterfront plan calls for no parking,” he said. “In doing [11,500 square feet], we think making a broad walkway [around the lot] achieves a portion of the plan, but less than that would be really inadequate.”

While many waterfront commissioners agreed that they prefer the two parties find a middle ground on the parking lot, they diverged on whether eminent domain should remain a viable option.

“I don’t believe anyone negotiates well when you might have a bulldozer come through, so maybe we should take eminent domain off the table,” said commissioner Doug Gosnell.

“There is value to keeping the consideration of eminent domain with a timeline [for negotiations],” said commissioner Christa Watters. “We wouldn’t even be here … discussing this otherwise. We need to reach an end to this process, on a reasonable timeline.”

Although the boat club recently celebrated the state Supreme Court’s decision recognizing its easement on nearby Wales Alley, changes to the group’s property lines could negate the legal victory.

“With respect to the easement right in Wales Alley, it’s because the boat club is an adjacent property owner,” Deputy City Attorney Chris Spera said last week after the court ruling. “If something less than the full boat club parcel were taken, if they are no longer adjoined, [then the club loses the easement].”

And eminent domain can be applied to easements as well as property, Spera warned.

DeSoto, though, believes that resolving the Wales Alley dispute paves the way for a general agreement between the club and city officials.

“[Now] that much of the litigation [like Wales Alley] is decided … a global settlement is now possible,” he said.