Developer suing City of Portsmouth over housing project

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – A developer is suing the City of Portsmouth after council members denied an application for a permit to build 280 apartment homes on Greenwood Drive.

Johan Conrod, an attorney for the plaintiff, said New Bethel Baptist Church, where Councilman Dr. Mark Whitaker is assistant pastor, previously owned the land.

After payments were not made, the bank and real estate company CBRE stepped in, Conrod said. Whitaker did not vote on the project, to prevent a conflict.

“We think this project would be very beneficial for the city,” Conrod said.

City council approved an ordinance requiring a permit for multi-family projects last year. Conrod claims the ordinance was adopted in part to exclude certain socioeconomic groups and that it was not legal.

“There is a state statute, a Virginia state statute that provides that localities cannot, by ordinance, require a special use permit for residential dwellings that otherwise comply with the density and other requirements of the zoning ordinance,” he said.

Before council voted on the permit in September, some neighbors told council they were against the development and would prefer single-family homes.

“We feel that this is not the location. There are beautiful apartments down here, all over the place, but in our community, we see problems. We see problems with the volume of it,” said Ray Smith, with the Cavalier Manor Civic League.

The lawsuit is calling for $2 million in damages.

Councilman Dr. Mark Whitaker and Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas said they could not comment on the suit. Councilman Danny Meeks said he stands by the council’s vote. Calls to other council members, Mayor Kenny Wright, and the city attorney were not returned.