An Albemarle circuit judge has reversed a zoning violation notice from the county regarding a disputed transit proffer.
For years, Route 29 LLC, led by local developer Wendell Wood, has argued that the need for JAUNT commuter service was not created by the rezoning of a portion of the Hollymead Town Center, after Albemarle said the transit service triggered the proffer and required Wood to start paying $50,000 a year.
In an order signed last week, after a trial in late August, Judge Cheryl Higgins said there was “insufficient nexus between the commuter route used to trigger the transit proffer … and any impacts caused by the underlying rezoning.”
Pete Caramanis, an attorney representing Wood, said they are pleased with the court’s decision, but “continue to regret that it took years to reach this outcome.”
“The entire thing could have been avoided if the Board of Supervisors had listened to and engaged with us before putting significant taxpayer funds at risk by relying on the proffer under these facts,” he said.
Albemarle officials said the county had no comment on the decision.
Part of the shopping center was rezoned in 2007, and the rezoning included a proffer for public transit operating expenses. Route 29 LLC now owns the property and the proffer was not changed during two zoning amendments in 2011 and 2013.
The proffer requires $50,000 annual cash payments for 10 years for a public transit service. The commuter transit service, which is operated by JAUNT, was established in May 2016 and the county began asking for payment that month.
In 2018, after two requests for payment were sent by the county, the county zoning administrator issued Route 29 LLC a violation notice for not paying. Wood and Caramanis tried to appeal, and later asked for a deferral, but were then denied the appeal by the Board of Supervisors.
At that time, Caramanis said the question for Route 29 LLC was not whether JAUNT is public transportation.
“The question for us is that all proffers are supposed to be related to impacts actually caused by the development, and, in this case, this bus is intended to address commuting,” he said. “It’s actually bringing people who live north of town to other places for their job or for whatever other reason they might want to take that bus. There are no people that live in this block of Hollymead Town Center, the only thing that’s there is Kohl’s, and stores that surround Kohl’s.”
Wood has tried to change the proffer, offering to pay a lump sum or reduced payments over time.
“Unfortunately, it seems they are still not understanding or accepting our legal position, as I understand that the county may attempt to seek an appeal of rulings made by two judges in Albemarle Circuit Court in our favor,” Caramanis said last week. “We would still rather work cooperatively to find an agreed solution than spend more time and money in court, but, again, without any real engagement from the board, all we can do is continue to protect our rights against this government overreach in the courts.”