Norfolk agency won’t postpone eminent domain trial

By Clay Barbour, The Virginian-Pilot – 2/20/2013


The Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority has turned down a request to postpone next week’s high-profile eminent domain case, even though the state Supreme Court could soon rule on another suit that makes that trial pointless.

The Circuit Court trial between the NRHA and Central Radio Co. Inc., an electronics company on West 39th Street, is scheduled to start Monday.

Four area companies are challenging how the agency handled redevelopment near Old Dominion University. Central Radio, a vocal opponent of the NRHA, made headlines for posting a banner accusing the agency of “eminent domain abuse.” It is joined in the fight by Pecil, PKO Ventures and Norva Plastics.

Steve Emmert, the appellate attorney for the four companies, said Tuesday that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case against PKO. If justices rule in favor of PKO, it would make Central Radio’s trial unnecessary. All four companies are making the same argument and would be covered under the same ruling, Emmert said.

Assuming this would be the case, Emmert last week requested that the NRHA postpone the pending trial.

“I recognize that the litigants in this upcoming trial will spend many tens of thousands of dollars in trial expenses,” Emmert wrote in a letter to NRHA attorney Donald Schultz. “I ask that we avoid what might prove to be an unnecessary trial. If the pending appeals are affirmed, then you can move forward with your acquisition; if they are reversed, you will have saved considerable money.”

Schultz responded Feb. 18 with a two-sentence letter that stated, “The Authority does not agree to further postponement of the trial…”

Asked Tuesday about the chance for a Supreme Court trial on the issue, Schultz declined to comment. Ed Ware, NRHA spokesman, also declined to comment.

The housing agency contracted in the late 1990s with the ODU real estate foundation for a massive project that has already claimed about 180 buildings near the campus. Much of that land today is home to apartments and retail developments catering to students.

The General Assembly toughened eminent domain laws in 2006, but the ODU redevelopment project was already under way, and lawmakers stipulated that the redevelopment authority could continue under the old rules for properties acquired by July 1, 2010. The four companies have argued that the NRHA did not have deals in place with them by that time.

Originally, all of their cases were linked. But when a judge ruled that the NRHA had the right to move forward with seizing the businesses, they were split up. The cases involving Pecil and PKO Ventures are already in appeal.

Central Radio and Norva Plastics, a 70-year-old company located on Killam Avenue, are still arguing over how much money they would be owed if they lose their appeals.

Emmert argued the cases of Pecil and PKO Ventures Feb. 12 before a three-judge panel that vets potential Supreme Court cases.

The Supreme Court’s next session starts Monday and runs through Feb. 28. However, the earliest the court is likely to hear the eminent domain issue is June, Emmert said.