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Slavery museum’s deed restrictions still intact

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RICHMOND—A federal judge has rejected an effort by the U.S. National Slavery Museum’s architect to get deed restrictions removed from the museum’s land in Fredericksburg.

Judge James R. Spencer on Tuesday dismissed Pei Partnership Architects’ complaint, saying the company had not proven that there was an actual controversy over its legal rights regarding the land that a federal judgement would solve, nor that the company had shown it has any legal right over the title to the land.

Pei’s lawsuit argued that the land restrictions aren’t enforceable. The company’s attorneys say the land will be more valuable at sale if the restrictions are removed.

Spencer wrote that Celebrate Virginia—which had asked him to dismiss Pei’s suit—was not currently involved in any legal proceeding to enforce the restrictions, thus making Pei’s suit not “ripe.” He also said Pei had not proved that its creditor’s lien on the land gave it any control over the title, thus the company didn’t have standing to ask him for a “quiet title” ruling.

Pei attorney Paul Prados said via email Tuesday that the company is “highly likely” to pursue the case in Fredericksburg Circuit Court and ask that court to declare the restrictions invalid.

“Judge Spencer did not uphold the alleged restrictions on the property today,” Prados said. “Judge Spencer simply stated that our case has not reached the point in which he feels he can rule on the alleged restrictions one way or another. This is a minor procedural setback, and the second time Celebrate Virginia has avoided adjudication of the alleged restrictions by avoiding the court rather than facing the controversy head on. Pei Partnership will proceed with adjudication of the alleged restrictions one way or another.”

The museum, founded by former Gov. Doug Wilder, was given 38 acres at Celebrate Virginia South a decade ago. The gift included a provision that the land had to be used for an African-American history museum or other educational or charitable purpose.

The museum was never built and was in bankruptcy for a year, a case which was dismissed last August. Pei designed the never-built museum but wasn’t paid, and is now owed about $6 million.

The city of Fredericksburg is owed about $300,000 in back taxes from the museum and is moving to sell the land; that sale would also be used to repay Pei. The city’s case to sell the land has its next hearing in May in Fredericksburg.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028