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Hanover supervisors sued over I-95 sign spat

Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 10:29 am

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Ground has yet to be broken on a pending outlet mall, expected to bring jobs and tax revenue to Hanover County once completed in the Northlake development off of Lewistown Road. But the fledgling commercial development is already central to a lawsuit claiming county supervisors favored its developer, Craig Realty Group, over another company vying for rights to a large sign visible from the interstate.

EMAC LLC., which owns 43 acres near the Northlake Ridge development, is seeking $6.97 million from Hanover County and the board of supervisors, claiming the county allegedly played favorites by denying EMAC an extension of a conditional use permit to operate a large electronic sign on property near where the pending outlet mall would be located.

The company, owned by the same person who owns McGeorge’s Rolling Hills RV, which is located on the property in question, brought the suit because of a decision the board made last month.

Ultimately, the company is challenging the board’s May 28 decision to deny the continuance of EMAC’s conditional use permit (CUP), alleging the board approved a similar request extending the CUP of an identical sign on Craig Realty Group’s property.

The plaintiff argues the board of supervisors intentionally denied EMAC the ability to renew its CUP on the sign, so that Craig Reality Group could gain ownership of the southern sign.

If and when the outlet mall is built, EMAC would have controlled a sign on the southern part of the property, owned by them, and the developers would have one on the northern part. Both would be visible from Interstate 95.

“The signs are highly profitable and can generate in excess of [$400,000] per year,” the plaintiff said in a complaint filed at Hanover Circuit Court.

EMAC alleges in its complaint that the realty company tried numerous times to have control over the sign on EMAC’s land. For example, the complaint alleges Craig Realty Group tried to make a deal with the plaintiff and when that didn’t work the county tried to press EMAC into letting the realty company have control over the sign on the southern property. In the complaint, EMAC alleged staff tried to meet with the developers to negotiate an agreement, but Craig Realty Group never secured a time to meet.

EMAC alleged the developers requested a CUP from the county in May of this year for a “destination sign” on property adjacent to EMAC’s, putting their sign under Craig Realty’s control. In order for the supervisors to approve Craig Realty’s application for a sign, EMAC alleged the board would have to deny theirs.

The lawsuit was served to County Attorney Sterling Rives, who is representing the county in this matter. Rives said that the county has been working to get the outlet mall at Northlake rolling, which he believes would greatly benefit the county once it’s built.

“This lawsuit is a transparent attempt to frustrate those efforts. We will file responsive pleadings in a couple of weeks and look forward to addressing these allegations in the courtroom as soon as possible,” Rives said.

Requests for comment from Craig Realty Group were not answered by presstime.

At this time, it is unknown when the case will be heard by a judge in Circuit Court.  EMAC has requested a jury trial.