Too late: Judge denies bid to stop Parkway
Judge Jay Swett denied a preliminary injunction to halt construction on the Meadowcreek Parkway, ruling that the plaintiffs waited until ground had already been broken and damage done before filing their injunction, and that the Virginia Department of Transportation would suffer "substantial harm" from stopping work, to the tune of $20,000 a day.
The Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park, represented by former City Council candidate Jennifer McKeever, is made up of longtime parkway opponents like Rich Collins, Stratton Salidis, and Peter Kleeman (the latter two also Council candidates), and they contend the city illegally gave land to VDOT in June 2008 when it did so with a 3-2 vote by City Council, rather than a super-majority vote required by the Constitution of Virginia when selling public land.
City Attorney Craig Brown argued that the Coalition had no standing for requesting the injunction, that they were unlikely to prevail in a lawsuit, and that the attorney general had issued an opinion that a super-majority vote was not necessary when granting a permanent easement. And VDOT attorney Lori Pound noted that taxpayers would be stuck with that $20K-a-day bill if work stopped.
Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, Swett questioned the injunction's timing, coming nine months after the city approved the land transfer. "Why not seek it before the first tree came down?" he asked. "The damage has been done."
In his ruling, Judge Swett found that the Coalition did have standing to file the injunction, but he cautioned that if he's wrong, the case could be thrown out on appeal solely on that issue.
Another point for issuing an injunction is the likelihood the plaintiff will prevail in a lawsuit over the land transfer. "I cannot find as of today the Coalition will prevail," said Swett. "I do not find the Coalition will be irreparably harmed if I do not grant an injunction."
Pointing out once again that the group could have filed before the first shovelful of dirt was dug, Swett added, "The plaintiff has to bear some of that responsibility."
The judge did allow an expedited trial in the Coalition's suit, so the parties will be back in court in May. By that time, Faulconer Construction, which began building a 1.4-mile stretch of the Parkway in February, may have felled hundreds of trees and moved thousands of feet of earth.
Coalition member and witness John Cruickshank seemed undismayed.
"It was very clear the judge took our case very seriously," he said, after the hearing. "He was very fair, and he said we're on some new legal ground."
And the Coalition may have more lawsuits up its sleeve. According to Cruickshank, it's hired a Washington lawyer to represent its contention that the Parkway violates federal law that protects parks and historic sites.