At his recent District Meeting of 02/25, Councilman Chris Hilbert responded to a question regarding the status of the Westwood Tract, by saying that its sale to Veritas School was “imminent”. As soon as I heard this, I checked with Veritas for verification. Their comment was as follows:
“What was communicated regarding the sale of the Westwood Tract to Veritas is not accurate.”
The extent of knowledge that out Task Group has obtained regarding this subject is as follows:
During the last few weeks, a small group representing several interested private parties and the two affected neighborhood associations has been developing a proposal under which, using conservation easements and conservation tax credits, the Westwood tract could be kept primarily as open space while at the same time, providing the Seminary with a reasonable financial return in exchange for the property. The Seminary has indicated a willingness to consider such a proposal. However, we must be cautious as this plan is very complex and many pieces have to fall into place in order for it to succeed. We will keep you posted as plans develop further, and we hope to know more in mid-March.
Stephen Weisensale, GPRA Planning & Zoning Cmte Chair Bruce Gilchrist, SPCA
Laburnum House Property Lawsuit Update for February, 2015:
As many of you may already know, the new Laburnum House parcel ownership group has entered a motion in the Circuit Court of the City to have the existing neighborhood agreement nullified, claiming that the agreement does not extend to their ownership. A copy of the motion, as well as a notice regarding the court date (March 11, 9:00 AM) is attached. On 02/02/15, the GPRA Board held a special Board meeting to address this subject, the minutes of which follow:
Emergency GPRA Board Meeting
Monday February 2 2015
Time: 6 PM
Attending: Louise Wenzell, Donna Sees, Sidney Bland, Jay Johnson, Rick Fox, Sharon Pohlmann, Stephen Weisensale, Dick Stone, Sandra Anderson, Steve Skinner, Meg Lawrence, Patrick Held, Nicholas Smith, Christina Shelor, and Norma Murdock Kitt. Also attending from SPCA (Sherwood Park) Philip Ray, Bill Pantele and Bruce Gilchrist
Emergency board meeting notes:
More than 10 years ago, a group of residents from Sherwood and Ginter Park set up a joint task force to deal with the development of the old Memorial hospital property. In 2003, the original developer worked with this committee to develop a detailed agreement governing permitted uses. At the same time, the zoning case was approved by the city council in the form of a community unit plan (CUP). It outlined how many units, parking spaces, etc. there would be, and what uses would be permitted. The committee worked very hard as there was concern about how the building would be used. Many of the restrictions are also in the CUP and were repeated and expanded upon in the agreement. However, this agreement didn’t get filed with the city until a couple of years after it was signed. Hence, the new owners, Westwood LLC wants to have the agreement voided, claiming that it was not in force when they purchased the property. The board needed to decide if the restrictions that are in the agreement were worth fighting a legal battle to keep.
Some of the restrictions covered the as of that time, un-renovated hospital tower. Since the reno is now complete, these specific restrictions are largely moot, though the restrictions noted in the CUP still apply.
Back in 2003, the developer’s attorney did not appear to have filed the signed agreement with the Clerk of the Court in a timely manner. As a result, the neighborhood agreement was not in the record at the time the original developer’s trusteeship agreement was signed. As a general rule on foreclosure, any restrictions related to the property can be voided if they are not recorded at the time the trusteeship is created.
We were given only 21 days to respond to the served documents. The docs were served to us on the 10th and earlier to Sherwood. Thus, both neighborhoods appeared to either in or very near default at the time of the meeting.
The zoning restrictions are still in play as far as the number of units and the building uses. The zoning did reserve two areas for the construction of townhouses. That was a trade-off in that a certain percentage of the tower condos needed to be sold before any additional building. The filing was by an Oregon based LLC that purchased the property through foreclosure. Whether this group elects to develop or sell the property to any private developer, they are still going to have to abide by the current zoning restrictions.
There was some rumor of a state agency taking over the Laburnum House to use as office space, though it’s just that – a rumor. A state agency would not be subject to local land use restrictions, but any private property purchaser would need to have the zoning changed. Veritas School has also expressed an interest this property, but we are not sure of the status of their interest at this time.
A land use attorney was interviewed by a member of the Task Group, as a potential attorney to represent the associations. He does a lot of real-estate and other litigation. If the associations tried, he would probably do a good job but it will cost a significant amount of money, beginning with a $2500 retainer. The $2500 would buy us time to respond in court, but the additional legal work needed to defend the agreement would likely cost thousands more.
There are hours of use for various buildings outlined in the agreement that are more strict than the zoning restrictions, specifically for the Laburnum House. The CUP does reference the agreement, but notes that since it is an agreement between parties, it would not be enforced by the City Planning Dept. We would likely have to subpoena all of the files relating to the agreement in an effort to prove that the purchaser knew about the restrictions prior to the purchase.
The Sherwood Park Association president said they don’t really want to let this go but they have no funds on hand to retain an attorney. They are happy to know that the CUP and the zoning will also provide some protections.
Eventually, the judge will enter an order, a hearing for which is scheduled March 11 at 9:00 in Richmond Circuit Court. The owner will request a declaration that the restrictions and the agreement are no longer valid with regard to this property. The CUP and zoning will however remain in place.
The Board discussed the possibility of engaging the attorney, the cost of doing so, and what would happen if the agreement is voided. Ginter Place (the old hospital tower) is stabilized now, so the bulk of the agreement restrictions which are still relevant pertain mostly to the Laburnum House and the old Sheltering Arms building. Given the potential cost of a legal challenge, as well as the fact that the conditions of the CUP will remain in place the Board voted NOT to take any legal action in response to this motion.
Read the update of the resident's meeting with the Seminary on September 4, 2014. Westwood Tract Update - September 10, 2014 (PDF)
Stephen Weisensale, AIA, CSI, Chair, GPRA Planning & Zoning Cmte
GPRA Board Meeting
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Home and Garden Tour
Saturday, May 2, 2015
11:00 AM - 4:00 PM
National Night Out
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
5:00 PM - 9:00 PM
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