Plat denial ‘improperly influenced’ by neighbors, owners say

Published 9:07 am Saturday, October 9, 2021

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The owners of the property that houses the defunct Racquet Club of Washington addressed their ongoing litigation with the City of Washington in a statement Wednesday, saying that they “expect that judgment will be made on our behalf based on the law.”

Bill and Dale Peele have been trying to get clearance to develop the property into a new subdivision. In April, after the city planning board recommended that city council approve a preliminary plat for what was then proposed as an 18-lot subdivision, City Council voted 2-3 against approving the plat. Mayor Donald Sadler, whose home is in a neighborhood adjacent to the proposed development, recused himself from all discussion related to the agenda item.

Several local residents asked City Council not to approve the plat during the April meeting. They cited concerns about the subdivision’s density, ordinance compliance and potential impact on local traffic.

In May, Bill Peele again appeared before City Council. He announced that the Peeles had retained an attorney, and also presented two versions of a petition against the subdivision. One version, which was presented to the planning board in Feb. 2021, includes the signatures of the mayor and his wife, Alice Mills Sadler. On the second version, which was presented to City Council in April, Donald Sadler’s signature is whited out. Peele asked for clarification as to how to proceed with the property; City Attorney Franz Holscher advised Council not to respond, given that an attorney who wasn’t at that meeting represented the Peeles.

The Peeles again received the planning board’s approval for a revised preliminary plat, this one with changes made in response to concerns and input from the public, Council members and the planning board. With Councilwoman Betsy Kane absent, Council voted 3-1 in favor of Mike Renn’s motion to deny the plat based on “noncompliance with the applicable specific standards of the city subdivision ordinance, including but not limited to those highlighted by city staff; inconsistency with general standards … contained in the city’s subdivision ordinance, including but not limited to public safety, traffic density and welfare issues; or the detrimental impact this subdivision would have on surrounding landowners, the nearby community and the character of existing developments in the nearby area.”

“The decision to deny was not based on any City ordinances, as we have complied with all of them, which has been stated multiple times by City Planning Board representatives,” the Peeles’ s statement reads. “We gained their full approval twice.  The decision, we believe, was not based on any procedural or administrative safeguards, but improperly influenced by the opinions of four neighbors who believe that our plan to build moderately sized housing will draw down their property value.  We as property owners not only have a right to develop our property, but the City needs housing.  We want to provide it.”

The property owners petitioned for and were granted a writ of certiorari in late July. The petitioners asked the court to determine if the they “were granted their due process rights, that (City Council’s) decision was based upon, competent, material, and substantial evidence in the whole record, was impartial in nature, and that the decision was not arbitrary and capricious.” The city has since filed a motion to dismiss with prejudice the petition and writ of certiorari, as well as a motion to strike the petition from the court record.

“Our legal counsel has advised us to request judicial review by filing a Writ of Certiorari, because, along with other reasons, the City Council exercised discretion outside of the applicable ordinances to deny our plat,” the Peeles’ statement reads. “However, should the court find that the City exercised administrative authority, we also pointed out to the court that the City has yet to give a Notice of Determination, which is required by statute for administrative decisions.  Our legal counsel has relayed all of this in response to the City’s newly hired legal counsel, from an Elizabeth City firm, on the motions and statements made from this outside counsel.”