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...]


‘Occupy Courthouse’ Rally Tuesday Against Rezoning


December 8, 2014 

Three Eastern Shore civic organizations are calling on Northampton County residents to attend an “Occupy the Old Courthouse” rally 6 p.m. Tuesday, December 9. The rally comes just before the Northampton County Board of Supervisors meeting at 7 p.m. and is intended to raise awareness of the proposed major revisions to the county’s zoning.  Billed as a “peaceful demonstration,” the rally will include speakers and musicians and is aimed at encouraging the Board of Supervisors to solicit more public involvement in any changes to the Comprehensive Plan and associated zoning ordinances.

“We are encouraging everyone who is concerned about this issue, one way or the other, to join us December 9 at the Administration Building at the old courthouse greens for this rally,” said Dave Kabler, one of the organizers. “What we do, or do not do, in the next several months could and will have a profound effect on this county and the lower Eastern Shore for generations,” he emphasized.

Kabler represents the group “Citizens for Open Government,” formed with Exmore activist Ken Dufty. Also sponsoring the rally are Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper Jay Ford and his organization. “We will be gathering in a show of support for a repeal of the proposed zoning ordinance that threatens our water quality, our property rights, and our agriculture, and aquaculture industries,” Ford said. “The Board of Supervisors has circumvented the citizen-created Comprehensive Plan that is to serve as our road map for the future,” he charged. The citizens of Northampton deserve better, and they deserve to have their hard work and consideration honored when it comes to the zoning code. Come out and let the Board know that they need to repeal this zoning overhaul and engage the public in a meaningful process in line with the spirit of our law,” Ford urged.

Also sponsoring the rally is the environmental preservation group Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore. [Read more...]


Supervisors Overrule PSA, Spend $10,000 for New Study

Cape Charles Wave

December 1, 2014

Northampton County Supervisors have approved spending up to $10,000 for a study on whether commercial sewage should be piped to the Cape Charles treatment plant or, instead, to a much closer, smaller facility owned by the county at Bayview. The action came November 24, less than a week after the county’s Public Service Authority had voted to go with the Cape Charles treatment plant. Only Supervisor Granville Hogg voted against spending the money.

The new engineering study would be performed by the firm of Hurt and Proffitt, already the beneficiary of a $70,000 contract to study constructing a pipeline from Route 13 to the Cape Charles wastewater plant. That contract was executed by the PSA in 2013 with county tax money (although then-Board of Supervisors chairman Willie Randall said he thought they were spending grant money).

At last Monday’s meeting, Supervisor Granville Hogg raised concerns that Hurt and Proffitt might have a conflict of interest. He noted that the PSA had just authorized execution of a contract with Hurt and Proffitt for a wastewater collection and conveyance system from the Route 13 commercial properties to the Cape Charles wastewater plant, pending approval and funding by the Board of Supervisors. [Read more...]


Museum Oyster Roast Sells Out on a Perfect Night

Oysters, clam chowder, fried chicken, potato salad, 3-bean salad, rolls, and yes all kinds of dessert too at (Photo: Marion Naar)

Oysters, clam chowder, fried chicken, potato salad, 3-bean salad, rolls, and all kinds of dessert too.  (Photo: Nancy Dalinsky)

Cape Charles Historical Society

December 1, 2014

Over 200 people attended last Saturday’s 17th Annual Oyster Roast at the Cape Charles Museum — a sellout. After a rough week of weather, the evening was perfect (and so were the Plantation Creek oysters — roasted or raw, your choice).

With years of experience, the volunteer cooks know how to roast oysters right — position the rack just the right height over the smoky fire, and keep the burlap wet but not soggy. After about 10 minutes, samples are taken to check if the oysters are ready (a tough job, but there’s no shortage of volunteers).

Bill and Jan Neville prepared two kinds of clam chowder this year — the traditional Eastern Shore variety, and a thicker version with lots more vegetables, which won praise. [Read more...]


Out-of-Towners Win Both Prizes in ESSO Golf Cart Raffle

MAYER & MAYOR: Hank Mayer assists Mayer Proto in Thanksgiving Day golf cart raffle drawing.

MAYER & MAYOR: Hank Mayer assists Mayor Proto in Thanksgiving Day golf cart raffle drawing.

Eastern Shore Spay Organization

December 1, 2014

The winner of the Eastern Shore Spay Organization golf cart raffle is Steve McCready of Willis Wharf.  The 2nd place prize of a night at a participating Cape Charles B&B and a $50 gift certificate at Aqua Restaurant is Des Moore of George.  The drawing was held on the steps of the Cape Charles Civic Center on Thanksgiving morning, with Cape Charles Mayor George Proto drawing the winning tickets. Mayor Proto explained to those present at the drawing how ESSO provides funds and subsidies to pet owners for spay and neuter services for cats and dogs on the Eastern Shore to prevent over-population.

ESSO is a non-profit organization incorporated one year ago in November by four local residents, and is dedicated to the prevention of cruelty to animals. ESSO also provides: trap, neuter, release service for feral/community cats; safe, healthy maintenance of small adult feral colonies that have been left behind by others, and trapping of abandoned kittens and puppies. ESSO provides medical check-ups and transportation to the SPCA in Virginia Beach or Norfolk to be placed in permanent homes. [Read more...]

PSA Defies Board of Supervisors on Route 13 Sewerage

Cape Charles Wave

November 24, 2014

Northampton’s Public Service Authority voted November 18 to construct a wastewater collection system to run from the Cheriton area of Route 13 to the Cape Charles sewer plant, contingent on funding. The vote would appear to fly in the face of a September 23, 2013, decision by the county Board of Supervisors to table any further action on a sewer pipe to Cape Charles. Facing overwhelming public opposition at the time, then-Chairman Willie Randall said, “We heard you, we listened, there will be no action on this plan until we get a better understanding of what to do.”

Supervisors’ meetings over the past year reveal no “better understanding” today than before. In fact, a Supervisors meeting tonight (November 24) will discuss using the Bayview treatment plant instead of Cape Charles —  an option not under active consideration by the PSA.

On paper, the PSA is an independent body, with four members appointed by participating municipalities and five members appointed at large by the Board of Supervisors. But while the PSA can vote to do whatever it wants, it has no taxing authority. The Board of Supervisors allocated $130,000 for the PSA in last year’s budget, $58,000 of which has been spent for sewer pipe engineering studies by the firm of Hurt and Profitt. But no money was allocated to the PSA for the current budget year.

PSA Chairman John Reiter (At Large) said that although the PSA is not yet ready to construct the sewer pipe, he requested authorization “to execute the contract at such time as the BOS approves the special tax district and mandatory connections and wants us to go forward.” J.T. Holland (At Large), Bob Panek (Cape Charles),  and Felton Sessoms (Nassawadox) joined Reiter in approving the motion.  Taylor Dukes (Exmore) and Greg Hardesty (Cheriton) voted against it.

Following the vote, Dukes said, “What I feel from the public is, they’re not for it.” He said he could not see supporting something the public is vocally against. Hardesty reported that business owners in Cheriton are not only opposed to the project, “they are vehemently opposed to it.” [Read more...]


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