A $3.5 million lawsuit filed by the Forest Lakes Community Association (FLCA) and the Hollymead Citizens Association against some of Albemarle County’s most prominent developers may grow in scope and cost. A lawyer with the Richmond-based Environmental Law Group told C-VILLE last week that the lawsuit, which names Wendell Wood’s United Land Corporation as well as companies tied to Virginia Land Company founder Charles Hurt, will be updated before the year’s end.
Forest Lakes’ monthly newsletter claims that erosion and sedimentation caused by construction of Hollymead Town Center, shown in this 2007 photo, has sent more than 3 million cubic feet of sediment into Lake Hollymead.
According to the lawsuit, FLCA members “have a right of easement to the use and enjoyment of the common areas, which include…Powell Creek as it passes through the FLCA properties and Lake Hollymead, which is jointly owned by the FLCA and the Hollymead Citizens Association.” Court documents claim that Lake Hollymead provides recreation, natural beauty, and premium status for waterfront homes—all matters that are allegedly jeopardized by silt and erosion. The suit, filed in Albemarle County Circuit Court in July, claims $3.5 million in damages and an additional $500,000 punitive damages award.“As often happens in an ongoing situation like this, initial papers are filed to, among other things, stop the statute of limitations and put certain parties on notice,” said attorney David Bailey, who represents the two communities. “But we did not have time to do all the research that we wanted to do. We’ve now done that, so we anticipate that lawsuit will be amended.”
However, those totals might escalate.
“If removal of deposited silt and sediment is a remedy, then every additional particle of sediment and silt has to be put into trucks and removed,” said Bailey.
In the November FLCA newsletter, a member of the Forest Lakes Board of Directors wrote that, due to construction of Hollymead Town Center, “excessive silt and sediment pollution have been deposited in Powell Creek and then downstream into the lake, and have caused significant damage to it.” The letter continues: “The nearly 3 million cubic feet of silt has reduced [Lake Hollymead’s] depth by more than half in some sections.”
Mark Graham, Albemarle County’s Director of Community Development, has been involved with discussions between county residents and Hollymead Town Center developers for years. In 2007, he attended a Joint Hollymead Town Center Forum where developer J.P. Williamson, through Albemarle Supervisor Ken Boyd, agreed “to discuss mitigation of sediment removal costs.” In exchange for a rezoning, Williamson also pledged to keep 80 percent of sediment on-site. State regulations require that 60 percent of sediment remain on-site.
In August, developer Wendell Wood told the Daily Progress that United Land Corporation had not violated any siltation or erosion regulations, and had submitted all necessary permits. Wood did not return a request for comment for this story.
Graham told C-VILLE that legal teams representing Forest Lakes Community Association and Hollymead Citizens Assocation have examined county property records since filing their first suit. And while developers received the necessary permits for their work, Graham suggested that no sediment regulations are perfect.
“The work that has been going on there since Hollymead Town Center started has been covered by erosion sediment control permits,” said Graham. “Have there been violations of the permits? Yes.”
Albemarle County has been “very sensitive” to Hollymead and Forest Lakes residents, said Graham. However, he added, developers “could be in compliance with permits and state requirements, and at the same time, Forest Lakes could still be seeing sediment.” The matter, then, becomes a private issue to be resolved by residents and developers.
Bailey told C-VILLE that the story of Lake Hollymead is ultimately one of continuing damages.
“Each new day of more discharge is more offenses,” said Bailey. “In the end, we’re talking about the rehabilitation of Lake Hollymead. That’s kind of a fixed entity.”