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Judge agrees to non-suit Rachel's Haven petition

A Charlottesville judge has agreed to dismiss a petition that sought to overturn a rezoning for an apartment complex that would include housing for people with disabilities.

Judge Richard Moore entered the order to non-suit following an Oct. 20 hearing in Charlottesville Circuit Court. However, it was not entered into the electronic court system until Monday.

The petition, which is similar to a lawsuit without seeking monetary compensation, was filed in September 2019 and has fluctuated in the number of names attached, reaching as high as 31.

Earlier this month, the petitioners filed the motion to non-suit, meaning they wanted to drop the case but could pursue it later. In a letter to the court, the petitioners cited financial and health concerns from the coronavirus pandemic, while mentioning an “outright attack on our group” through Facebook and Nextdoor.

In August 2019, the City Council unanimously voted to rezone 750 Hinton Ave. from residential to neighborhood commercial so Hinton Avenue Methodist Church could erect a 15-unit apartment building known as Rachel’s Haven.

The rezoning came with several restrictions eliminating all nonresidential uses other than for an educational or day care facility associated with the church.

Other conditions, or proffers, say that at least four units would be available as affordable housing. The church has said that four to six units will be set aside as independent housing for people with developmental disabilities, but that is not included as a proffer.

Opponents of the rezoning have reiterated that they support the church’s mission but say they are concerned with ramifications from commercial zoning.

The petition argued the rezoning is improper because it violates state law and the city’s Comprehensive Plan and that meeting notice requirements weren’t met.

The city’s response to the petition states that many of the arguments cannot legally be considered by the court or the council in a rezoning decision, such as enforcement of proffers and financial backing for the project. The city also disputed factual and technical parts of the petition.

At the hearing, Moore noted the order was “not a decision on the merits of the case.”

Deputy City Attorney Allyson Davies had no objections to the order at the hearing. Moore attempted to discuss the background of the case with her, but she was unfamiliar with the particulars.

The case originally was handled by Assistant City Attorney Sebastian Waisman and Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson. However, Waisman has taken another job and Robertson is now acting city attorney while City Attorney John Blair is serving as interim city manager.

The motion to non-suit requested leniency in fees, but Moore told the petitioners no fees were involved. He said the petitioners paid a filing fee and the city was not seeking attorney fees because the case didn’t go to trial and was being dismissed.


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