A lawsuit that aims to stop city officials from moving the controversial slave auction block could be decided as early as Friday.
Fredericksburg Circuit Court Judge Sarah L. Deneke heard the petition Monday from E.D. Cole Building LLC, which owns the commercial building across the street from the city-owned 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.
The lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 10, argues City Council had no legal authority to grant a certificate of appropriateness for the removal of the auction block and its relocation to the Fredericksburg Area Museum. The petition said only the city’s Architectural Review Board could undertake such an action, but its members failed to reach a decision within the 90-day time limit.
City Manager Tim Baroody then filed an appeal to City Council, which granted the certificate at its Nov. 12 meeting. This violated the Dillon rule, a legal principle that local governments’ powers are limited to those areas where the state has expressly granted them authority, said Fredericksburg attorney Joseph Peter Drennan, who represented the petitioners. He said that according to City Code, the ARB has to reach a decision before it can be appealed.
“City Council just went on to approve the certificate of appropriateness anyway,” he said. “That is the illegality of the decision.”
He said the council had other options, including seeking the ARB’s approval before it voted in July to move the auction block, repealing that initial decision and then applying to the ARB. It could also have requested that the court force the ARB to reach a decision.
City Attorney Kathleen Dooley argued that the city’s charter, which was granted by the General Assembly, gives it authority to manage, control and dispose of its property.
“We were in the same position as any property owner,” she said after the hearing. “If they don’t get a certificate of appropriateness, they can appeal and City Council makes the final decision. If they aren’t satisfied, they can appeal to the Circuit Court.”
Dooley said ARB members never asked for more information or time before the 90 days ran out.
“If they were not going to act, if that was a dead end, then any applicant would be denied due process of law,” she said. “The petitioners are saying you didn’t go through the process and you can’t appeal. That’s not what the City Code said.”