State Supreme Court Hears Old School Arguments

Cape Charles Wave

October 17, 2013

A three-judge panel at the Virginia Supreme Court in Richmond heard arguments October 15 by the civic group Old School Cape Charles. The group’s attorney, Kevin Martingayle, told the court that the Town of Cape Charles failed to follow its own code by letting the school in Central Park fall into disrepair. Citizens should have standing to raise concerns about the sale of a public building and parkland, he argued.

“The Town manufactured its own crisis and then used it as an excuse to sell the property,” Martingayle said. He termed it “remarkable” that the Town used its own failures to enforce its code as the excuse for disposing of historic property. Martingayle told the court that he could find no precedent in law for the Town’s actions.

The Old School group is contesting the Town’s “gifting” to a developer of park property valued on the tax rolls at $900,000. Northampton Circuit Court Judge Revell Lewis ruled last February that Town citizens had “no standing” to question the divestment of Town property.

The Supreme Court now must decide whether the case has sufficient import to merit an appeal. The court considers if errors were made in a ruling, and also whether an an area of law is unsettled and in need of clarification. “Many aspects of Old School’s cases have no legal precedent, which makes them more appealing to the judges,” Martingayle told the Wave.


The Court usually grants deference to local elected bodies about their political and executive decisions but does not look favorably on procedural missteps. A governing body must follow their own rules and procedures, Martingayle emphasized.

Martingayle argued to the court that applications for rezoning and a conditional use permit were deficient. Notification of the rezoning was not provided to all adjacent property owners, and the conditional use permit was filled out three times in three different ways, none of them procedurally correct, he said.

The Supreme Court generally does not get involved with land use disputes, the case of the old school is very different from an argument between neighbors about private property that does not affect the community at large. “The school in Central Park is a historic property in the center of town. Citizens should have the right to complain about a governmental body allowing a valuable public property to decay and then practically giving it away without consideration of other proposals,” he said.

Attorneys for the defense, the Town of Cape Charles and Echelon Resources, Inc., did not speak at the hearing. If an appeal is accepted, both sides will then present briefings before the full Court.

Town attorney Michael Sterling attended the hearing, but attorneys for Echelon Resources and the Virginia Municipal League did not. Martingayle noted afterward that Sterling’s attendance was “most unusual,” because “usually only companies with very deep pockets would spend that kind of money.”

The judges’ decision whether to schedule a full hearing on the case is expected sometime within the next 30 days.

Calls by the Wave to Town Manager Heather Arcos regarding the case had not been returned as of press time.

UPDATE: Town Manager Arcos told the Wave that she requested the Town attorney to attend the hearing, and that the Virginia Municipal League also sent a representative.



2 Responses to “State Supreme Court Hears Old School Arguments”

  1. Deborah Bender on October 17th, 2013 6:46 am

    I personally like the fact that the town manager used the excuse that the building was in terrible condition and they had no money to work on it. A short time later the town manager certified to the Department of Historic Resources that the building was in good shape! Ms. Arcos, was the building in good shape or terrible shape?

    Secondly, we supposedly had no money to repair the school, yet days after the “sale,” the town used bond money, set aside for the tapping of new wells, to buy the old bank to use for a library. Ms. Arcos, did we have money or not?

    If the town had kept the school in good shape, following their own code, and used the insurance money and half of what they spent on lawyers to fight OSCC, that would have been a huge shot in the arm for repairs, and we would have a community center for everyone in the town to use.

    But for some reason our town officials bent over backwards to give our historic old school, basketball court, and playground parking lot to a developer. I wonder why.

  2. Wayne Creed on October 17th, 2013 9:52 am

    Town attorney Michael Sterling attended? Indeed, I hope he brought his knitting — wouldn’t want him sitting there all day billing us for doing nothing. Just who authorized this expenditure? Now really, if we go back and tally up all the hours spent by Town staff doing the leg work for Echelon (look, I understand where Echy’s coming from. When your office is the trunk of a car, you just have to leverage the old taxpayer now and then), and all the hours billed by two of the most expensive law firms in the state, just how much is the Town into it over this deal so far? I wonder what the rate on our municipal insurance is going to look like next year? It’s not ending yet either, dear citizens. They will have to replace the basketball courts. How much will that cost — $100,000? Yet more, their racist backtracking must inevitably lead down the path to the Rosenwald Colored School in order to find some sliver of redemption (how much of the $600,000 asking price will the Cape Charles taxpayer be in for?). Yeah, I know, the path to salvation is narrow and as difficult to walk as the razor’s edge. I just didn’t know it would cost so much.