Top court to get housing case

Residents of an upscale neighborhood sued over plans for an access road to their subdivision.

By Mason Adams, The Roanoke Times – June 14, 2007

The Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving neighbors who want to block the upscale Wilton in South Roanoke subdivision off U.S. 220 South.

Sixteen residents of the swanky Peakwood Drive neighborhood, which adjoins the planned subdivision, sued the city and one of the region’s pre-eminent developers, Len Boone, last year. They alleged city officials were so enamored with the potential tax revenue from Boone’s planned development of $500,000 homes that they broke their own planning regulations in an effort to fast-track the project.

Much of the dispute centers on an access road to the Wilton subdivision. If it goes through the working-class Southern Hills subdivision, children in the Wilton homes would go to Garden City Elementary and Stonewall Jackson Middle School. Putting the access road through Peakwood Drive, however, would send the children to Crystal Spring Elementary and JamesMadisonMiddle School. To get that access, Boone purchased a home on Peakwood Drive so it can be torn down to build the access road for Wilton.

The residents of the subdivision say that would ruin their neighborhood.

In October, Roanoke Circuit Judge Charlie Dorsey ruled in favor of the city. But earlier this month, a panel of justices agreed to hear the case in the Supreme Court. The appeals document posted to the court’s Web site lists eight “assignments of error” the lawyers on each side of the case used in filing the appeal. The court will be limited to ruling on those eight points.

That’s still enough for the court to overturn Dorsey’s decision, said Richard Cranwell, a former state legislator who is representing the Peakwood Drive residents.

“We’re looking for a reversal, and a decision that the actions by the planning director were illegal,” Cranwell said.

Six of those eight assignments of error were filed by Cranwell and his co-counsel, Randy Greehan. The other two were filed by the city’s lawyers and deal with whether the Peakwood Drive residents even have standing to sue.

“We were hoping [the appeal] wouldn’t be granted, but we’ll just have to spend the extra time to brief the case and argue it,” said Roanoke City Attorney Bill Hackworth.

Jackie Logan, one of the plaintiffs, said she was relieved by the court’s decision.

“This is all about destroying a neighborhood,” Logan said. “They’re our last chance. We’re hopeful that they will reverse the ruling.”

Boone could not be reached for comment.

According to Virginia Beach lawyer Steven Emmert, chairman of the state bar’s appellate practice subcommittee, the Virginia Supreme Court generally agrees to hear about 22 percent of the appeals filed in civil cases. Once the court agrees to hear an appeal, it reverses about 62 percent of the judgments, he said.

“The real battle for the appellant is getting the writ” of appeal, Emmert said. “After getting the writ, the appellant is in the driver’s seat.”

Cranwell and Greehan have until July to file a brief on the case. The defense will then have time to respond. Emmert said the two sides will get a combined half-hour to argue the case, probably in November. The court won’t make a decision until several weeks after the arguments.