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Developer’s lawsuit costs Spotsylvania some cash

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Spotsylvania County will lose out on nearly $700,000 that a developer initially agreed to pay to offset a planned subdivision’s impact on public facilities, based on a court ruling.

Developer and former Spotsylvania Supervisor Marion E. Hicks, 91, originally owed the county $3.2 million in cash proffers for the planned 127-home Summerfield development off U.S. 1 just south of the Fredericksburg line.

But Circuit Court Judge J. Howe Brown last month reduced that amount by $686,485.

Hicks filed suit against the county last year after the Board of Supervisors rejected his request to decrease Summerfield’s proffers by $1.9 million. Supervisors declined to consider a subsequent application to reduce the proffers by a lesser amount. Hicks’ suit said the county failed to follow the Comprehensive Plan’s formula for calculating proffers. The board first approved the development and the proffers in 2009.

The developer’s lawsuit claims that those original proffer amounts exceeded the actual impact of Summerfield on the county’s infrastructure.

The judge, however, didn’t rule on the fairness of the proffers. Rather, he voided several proffer categories—general government, fire and rescue, public safety and solid waste—because they don’t conform to Spotsylvania’s Comprehensive Plan as required by county code.

Stafford County attorney Clark Leming, who is representing Hicks, called it a “highly significant” ruling. Virginia law makes it clear that a county cannot disregard its own ordinances, he noted.

“If this ruling stands, any cash proffer relying on the cash proffer guidelines as they have existed since at least 2007 would be vulnerable,” Leming wrote in an email.

The court will hear his client’s challenge of the other proffer categories at a later date, he said. That includes $2.1 million in cash proffers for schools that Hicks originally agreed to pay.

Interim Spotsylvania County Attorney James Benkahla wrote in a court document that he objected to the ruling. Cash proffers, he wrote, “inherently conform” to the Comprehensive Plan.

Benkahla declined to comment when reached by The Free Lance–Star. It’s unclear if this ruling will have any effect on already-approved proffer arrangements with other developers.

Cash proffers are voluntary, not required.

Even so, the developer’s suit says supervisors would not have acted on Summerfield if Hicks had not offered to pay the cash proffers per the county’s guidelines.

Hicks has been unable to develop or sell housing lots at Summerfield because the proffer amounts have rendered them unmarketable, the suit says.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402