Old School Developer Gets Another Lucky Break

bad wall

Town gave Petersburg developer J. David McCormack $41,000 to repair damage to old school wall, but McCormack did the job for an estimated $1,000. (All photos Cape Charles Wave)

Cape Charles Wave

December 15, 2014

J. David McCormack of Petersburg, who is converting the old Cape Charles High School in Central Park into a 17-unit apartment building, has enjoyed one lucky break after another over the past four years.  Most recently, he saved as much as $200,000 in repairs to a crumbling back wall.

It was that same wall that town officials claimed made the old school impossibly expensive to repair for use as a community center. When Northampton County offered to chip in, then-Mayor Dora Sullivan turned the County Board of Supervisors down flat.

“The cost to provide a historic restoration is prohibitive at $2-4 million,” she wrote to then-Supervisor Willie Randall, noting that “one exterior wall collapsed as a result of the earthquake last year and the estimate to repair that wall alone was approximately $200,000.”

The actual estimate was $228,000 and came from FEMA, who was willing to pay to repair the earthquake damage so long as the town retained ownership of the building. FEMA refused, however, to compensate the town unless the money was used to repair the wall.

The FEMA report also contained the question, “Was this site previously damaged?” The answer given was “No.” But the damage had been documented years earlier in the 2006 Shriver Holland report: “The exterior wall along the west side of the east wing has pulled away from the floor framing. . . . Geotechnical investigation should be provided to determine cause of wall movement. Wall may need to be re-anchored and additional foundation support provided,” the report stated.

Two masons + two days’ work = repaired wall.

Town officials were not interested in seeing the wall repaired. Instead, they were looking for money to pass to developer McCormack. So they turned down FEMA’s offer and went instead to the Virginia Municipal League, which insures town assets. The VML estimated an actual loss of $66,000. Subtracting a $25,000 deductible left $41,000, and the town cashed the check.

Meanwhile, then-Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek had struck a no-bid deal with McCormack and his sometime partner, Edwin Gaskin, to convey the school plus the $41,000 insurance proceeds in return for the nominal sum of $10. The deal was agreed to by Town Council in a series of closed-door discussions initially concealed from public scrutiny.

Fast forward to late 2014, when McCormack began construction on the school building. Two masons spent the better part of two days repairing the wall. Typical of construction at the time (1912), the wall consists of three courses of brick. Only the outer course had fallen down (see top photo), and the masons simply bricked it back.

If each mason was paid $25/hour, and worked 16 hours, the total cost of labor was $800. Throw in another $200 for mortar and some new bricks (most were simply reused) and the estimated cost for actual repair was $1,000 – a remarkable saving over the $200,000 figure named by the former mayor, and a $40,000 profit for McCormack over what the town gave him.

new wall

Most of the brick for wall repair was simply reused; foundation was not touched.

But the wall is only the latest “lucky break” for McCormack. He also enjoys a remarkable (if illegal) business relationship with the town by which he receives free water. Town Council has granted several water concessions to McCormack, but they never passed any ordinance giving him free water. That decision was made by acting Town Manager Panek, by fiat.

Town code requires payment of a sizable utility connection fee when a building permit is issued. But the town agreed not to charge McCormack a connection fee until issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy, which comes only after construction is complete.

Existing water connection at old school. Town is not billing McCormack for water used by contractors.

Existing water connection at old school. Town is not billing McCormack for water used by contractors.

Meanwhile, the school has always had a water connection. Anyone else purchasing property with a water meter is required to pay a monthly charge, whether any water is used or not. In fact, the town code goes further, requiring monthly water payment even where a structure has been razed. For example, the town billed the developer of the Cape Charles Yacht Center for water and sewer for several years after the only building on the property had been demolished.

In McCormack’s case, Panek ordered town staff to ignore the existing water hookup to the school, which otherwise would have been billed a minimum of $108/month even if no water were used. McCormack has now owned the building for two years, which amounts to over $2,500 in utility charges that any other owner would have been billed.  Meanwhile, builders at the school are enjoying the use of free town water (see photo).

After McCormack bought the school and basketball court, Town Manager Bob Panek removed the hoops for “safekeeping.” McCormack subsequently argued to county tax officials that he should not have to pay property tax on the court since it was unusable.

Another “lucky break” came in the form of two sizable tax reductions. When McCormack bought the old school, it was valued on the tax rolls at $921,000. A 2014 reassessment lowered that value to $510,900. But McCormack was not satisfied, and appealed the reassessment to county officials. In a series of clever, if not outlandish, arguments, McCormack maintained that the seven lots on which the school is built in a residential district should be valued below that of adjoining lots, because the presence of the school building is a liability. He further argued that the basketball court adjoining the school should have a value of zero, because “the basketball hoops have been dismantled by the Town of Cape Charles, and the courts are no longer in use.” The county bought his argument and reduced the total property assessment value to $285,000.

But McCormack’s luck didn’t stop there. Last May, the county approved his application for “Tax Assessment Rehabilitation,” which locks in the $285,000 assessment for 10 years, no matter how valuable the property may become.  That means McCormack will pay only about $1,900 county tax and $786 town tax annually on his 17-unit apartment building for the next 10 years – less than most other town property owners pay for a single family residence.

McCormack appears confident that his luck will hold with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which decides whether he qualifies for historic tax credits totaling 45 percent of his expenses. He has always conceded that his only reason for taking on the school project was to get the tax credits (which also apply to the “administrative fees” that he charges himself).

But an official at the Department of Historic Resources initially denied McCormack’s application, listing a litany of requirements that would have to be satisfied. For example, McCormack was supposed to build a full scale mockup of the proposed roof-mounted heating/air conditioning system and skylights. McCormack has ignored all the DHR’s requirements, but he did hire a former DHR official, Page Pollard, to handle the application process. (The Wave has learned that DHR has never denied any of McCormack’s previous applications for historic tax credits.)

McCormack also lucked out on asbestos in the school. Scare stories had been circulated to the effect that asbestos abatement would cost thousand of dollars — another reason for the town to unload the school. But in the event, little to no asbestos abatement was performed, and inspectors have not reported a problem.
[Read more...]


Cape Charles to Host 2015 CBES Bike Tour

Upwards of 1,000 riders, mostly not from the Shore, are expected in Cape Charles for the 2015 CBES "Between the Waters" bike tour next October 24.

Upwards of 1,000 riders, mostly not from the Shore, are expected in Cape Charles for the 2015 CBES “Between the Waters” bike tour next October 24.

Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore

December 15, 2014

Next year will be Cape Charles’ turn to host the annual CBES “Between the Waters” bike tour. Held each year on the fourth Saturday in October, the tour attracts upwards of a thousand participants – 90 percent of them not from the Eastern Shore.

This year’s bike tour was held in Onancock, headquartered at the historic Onancock School, with excited riders streaming to check in and start one of the tour’s four routes: 25, 40, 60, or 100 miles. Event Coordinator Phyllis Tyndall estimated about 800 cyclists, up some 50 participants from last year.

“It’s about the fifth or sixth time for us,” said Don Pratt, 70, of Southern Shores, NC, as he saddled up in the school parking lot. “It’s a good ride and it’s flat like the Outer Banks where we train.”

Nearby, Brad Dougherty, 60 of Virginia Beach, riding with his coach Mellissa Kuch, shared how triple bypass surgery prompted him to do the tour. “I made it part of my therapy to train and do the 100 mile tour — it’s my goal.” Dougherty finished shy of his mileage goal but logged an impressive 73 miles. “I’ll be [in Cape Charles] next year to do the full 100,” he promised. [Read more...]

Supervisors Hear Intense Opposition to Rezoning

Some of the 150 zoning opponents who rallied at the old courthouse prior to a meeting of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors. (Wave photo)

Some of the 150 zoning opponents who rallied at the old courthouse prior to a Northampton County Board of Supervisors meeting December 9. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

December 11, 2014

Some 150 Northampton County residents rallied December 9 against plans for a sweeping rezoning that opponents say could change the Eastern Shore way of life. The crowd than attended a Board of Supervisors meeting where it was standing room only in the usually nearly vacant meeting room.

In the face of intense opposition to the zoning proposals developed by county staff, the Supervisors voted to take up to six more months to decide what to do. During public comment time, almost all of the 19 speakers asked the Supervisors to just withdraw the proposal instead of extending the deadline. But only Supervisor Granville Hogg voted against the deadline extension.

Public speakers called for the Supervisors to request input from county residents as well as research studies on what proposed changes might mean to the economy.

Virginia Shorekeeper Jay Ford, one of the rally organizers, said that more than 500 people had signed a memo calling on Supervisors to completely withdraw the rezoning applications. The zoning applications were filed in the name of all county residents, but in fact were drawn up by county staff without consultation with the public.

Cape Charles Mayor George Proto was among speakers calling for the Supervisors to withdraw the zoning proposals. Proto said he was speaking for himself and not for the Town of Cape Charles. The proposed changes are inconsistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan and the desires of a large portion of the county’s citizens, Proto charged, calling for public input and verifiable data to address issues of concern.

Cape Charles Business Association President Andrew Follmer said that his Board of Directors, representing 60 members comprised mainly of small businesses, had voted unanimously to request the Supervisors to completely withdraw the zoning code applications. “We further request a new process be launched to update the county zoning code in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan and based on relevant data,” Follmer said.

Exmore Mayor Douglas Greer also voiced his opposition. “You don’t have a good reputation when it comes to getting the Shore where it needs to be,” he told the Supervisors. “You have a good chance to turn this county around. . . . You need to listen to the people of the Eastern Shore. . . . Open your minds and don’t ignore the people here. Think before you act. That’s all I ask,” he said. [Read more...]


VIDEO: WAVY-10 Covers Rally Against Rezoning

December 10, 2014

Last night’s anti-rezoning rally outside the old Eastville courthouse is getting major news coverage. WAVY-10 was there and broadcast the feature below (click arrow to view) at 11 p.m. last night and again today. Shore Radio also has a report (CLICK to read). Ron West from the Eastern Shore Post was there, as well as  Eastern Shore News photographer Jay Diem — not to mention the Cape Charles Wave, which emerged from semi-hibernation to cover the event.


FRIDAY 12/19: ‘Weary of War — the Shore in December 1864′

“Weary of War: The Shore in December 1864” is the subject of a free 90-minute seminar 12:30 p.m. Friday, December 19, in the Lecture Hall of the Eastern Shore Community College, 29300 Lankford Hwy., Melfa. Historian Kellee Blake will address declining hopes for Southern victory, the Shore command of bright young colonel Frank J. White (including his handling of the previously enslaved population), the predicament of women, and the costly demand that every adult on the Shore take the dreaded oath. [Read more...]


American Legion Food Drive for Eastern Shore Pantry

American Legion Post 56 in Cheriton has an ongoing Holiday Project to provide canned food to the Eastern Shore Food Pantry. A box is located inside Post 56 near the front door to collect canned goods for our neighbors who need help this year. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a family who can feed them during this Christmas season. All members and their families are asked to please consider donating canned goods to this project.

Register for Master Gardener Training Class

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Master Gardeners Program is accepting applications for the 2015 Master Gardener training class, which will be held at the Eastern Shore Agriculture Research and Experimental Center, 33446 Research Drive, Painter, beginning January 14, and continuing every Wednesday from 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. through April 15.  The cost is $100 to cover materials and lectures.  [Read more...]

Pin-Up Pets Featured in SPCA Calendar

People love their pets. That’s why the SPCA Eastern Shore had an abundance of responses when they asked if any of their previous adopters would like to purchase a month to feature their SPCA alum pet in the shelter’s 2015 fund-raising calendar. From the cover shot of Maxie Mouse, a terrier, on the sandbar at Cherrystone through the December photo of Kermit the Cat daring anyone to touch her Christmas presents, the calendar showcases an array of former shelter residents who have found happy and loving forever homes. [Read more...]

Publish Your Event in the Cape Charles Wave

Holding an event of interest to the general public in or near Cape Charles? Send an email to
[email protected] and your event will be listed in ON THE TELEPHONE POLE. Events will normally be publicized the same week they occur. Deadline for submission is the preceding Saturday.

Supervisors: Read Your Own Report, Ditch Sewer Plan

December 8, 2014


I have sent the following letter to the Board of Supervisors:

Dear Northampton County Board of Supervisors,

In considering the need for a central sewer system, I’d like you to study the attached report, produced by Northampton County. You’ve probably heard before that Northampton County is losing population. The attached report illustrates how the county population has declined steadily from 18,565 people in the 1930 census to just over 12,000 today (see Figures 3.2 and 3.3 in the attached report). We currently have less people in our county than in any time in the past century. We are nearing the point where we will have lost 50% of our population. This trend is predicted to continue for the forseeable future. Projections going out to 2040 predict a continued decline in population (see Table 3.3). [CLICK to download report.]

Population density has a direct bearing on the ability of an area to treat sewage effectively with septic systems as opposed to centralized sewer systems. “On June 28, 2013, EPA released a model program for onsite wastewater treatment systems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to help states more effectively prevent nutrients from entering the Bay from onsite or septic systems, which will improve water quality. When properly designed, sited and maintained, decentralized systems like septic systems can treat wastewater effectively and protect surface water and groundwater.” (http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/septic/index.cfm).

The EPA also “concluded in its 1997 Response to Congress that “adequately managed decentralized wastewater systems are a cost-effective and long-term option for meeting public health and water quality goals, particularly in less densely populated areas.” (http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/septic/index.cfm). [Read more...]

ESO’s 24th Nutcracker Dedicated to the Roll Family

Walt and Jeanne Roll

Jeanne and Walt Roll

Chris Roll

Chris Roll


December 8, 2014

For many, their introduction to Eastern Shore Own Arts Center starts with a young daughter mesmerized by the Center’s annual performance of the Nutcracker ballet. With an “I wanna be a ballerina” proclamation, it’s off to ESO. It was much the same for parents Jeanne and Walt Roll and their daughter Erin. But their involvement with ESO morphed into an amazing two decades of selfless donation of time and talents that soon included their son Chris. Their mark is most evident during the months of intensive preparation for the Nutcracker and the reason this year’s 24th production is dedicated to the Rolls.

“Between creating elaborate costumes and props and producing countless videos and photographs, the Rolls have been instrumental in making the ballet happen for 20 years,” said Dana Floyd-Sutter, ESO Dance School Director. It would not be hard to dub the Rolls the First Family of ESO. Their dedication has greatly enabled the non-profit to keep the Nutcracker going year after year.

“Nutcracker is so important to the students,” said Floyd-Sutter. “It’s exciting for them to be part of the tradition and it builds their confidence. It is a great vehicle for team building — I see how it teaches them to love and support each other. It certainly makes them better dancers.” [Read more...]