The Fredericksburg City Council is asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to stop its plans to move a controversial slave auction block from downtown, saying the suit overlooks or ignores a key subsection of City Code giving it that authority.
E.D. Cole Building LLC, which owns the commercial building across the street from the auction block at 402 William St., and Local Holdings LLC, owner of the Olde Towne Butcher shop and The Butcher’s Table restaurant at 401 William St., allege they will lose business income from what they predict will be a decline in both foot traffic and tourist visits to the corner of Charles and William streets after the stone auction block is removed.
Kybecca, a popular restaurant that is a tenant in the E.D. Cole Building, is not taking part in the lawsuit.
The companies’ petition, which was filed Dec. 10, alleges that the City Council violated the Dillon Rule when it voted 6–1 to approve a certificate of appropriateness to remove the auction block, and had no legal authority to order its removal and its relocation to the Fredericksburg Area Museum. The petition said only the city’s Architectural Review Board, which was unable to reach a decision on the matter, could undertake such an action.
City Attorney Kathleen Dooley, in her response for the City Council, argues that ARB decisions may be appealed to the council and “final decisions” of the council may be appealed to Circuit Court. It adds that the petitioners relied on one subsection of City Code (§72-23.1(D)(3)), but either overlooked or ignored a following subsection (§72-23.1(F)(1)) that grants the council authority to hear and decide appeals of ARB decisions.
Dooley ended the response by asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
The council’s relocation plan calls for Public Works crews to remove the block from the public right of way under the supervision of professional archaeologists. After removal and cleaning, the auction block would go on display at the Fredericksburg Area Museum, which re-opens to the public on March 1.
City Council has directed Dooley to bring the lawsuit to a successful conclusion as soon as reasonably possible. No hearing has been scheduled.
The two companies’ lawsuit is the second attempt to halt removal of the auction block. The first was a petition filed last month by George Forrest Dickinson Jr., who lives in the Historic Fredericksburg District. Dooley said he voluntarily withdrew it after the judge ruled that Dickinson had no standing in the case.