Beach business owner claims VDOT is forcing him out

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — An eminent domain case is unfolding in Virginia Beach, where a business claims it’s being forced out on the street by VDOT.

Studio Center, a longtime recording studio, has been told by VDOT to leave. Studio Center does not own the building, but has been a long time tenant. VDOT tells 10 On Your Side that the owner of the building has vacated the property.

VDOT claims it’s given plenty of notice, but Studio Center says it needs more time to relocate. Each side claims the other is being unreasonable.

The business owner — like Studio Center — is forced to relocate through no fault of his own, and he wants help.

WAVY’s Andy Fox met with Studio Center owner William Prettyman, who said, “I am upset with VDOT that they are trying to evict us. They have given us no help, and no money, and we are having to build an entirely new facility.”

The building that is in dispute is located on Business Park Drive.

“VDOT met with the CEO of Studio Center on October 20, 2015, to discuss the construction project and provided him with a 90-day assurance letter, (stating that they had at least 90 days before they needed to move). At their request, Studio Center was allowed to remain in its current location through December 2016 and VDOT granted a further extension until March 31, 2017. Since then, VDOT proceeded with actions to evict Studio Center,” VDOT Communications Manager Paula Miller wrote in a statement.

The transportation agency wants the building because VDOT is widening Witchduck Road and building a huge new on ramp from Witchduck to 264 east. That ramp will require the property that Studio Center is located on, and that is why VDOT took the property through eminent domain.

Prettyman’s attorney is Brian Kunze of Waldo & Lyle law firm, which specializes in eminent domain cases.

“We want VDOT to give them time to relocate, but they also have to provide all the assistance and benefits that both those businesses are entitled to under the law,” Kunze said.

10 On Your Side mentioned to Prettyman VDOT’s claim that he’s been given enough time.

“All this is under massive construction,” he said as he walked us through the renovation of a church. “You can see we are not stalling. We are not trying to stay in our current location. We are trying to get out as quickly as we can, but these things take time.”

As for compensation, Prettyman says he is owed $1.5 million from VDOT. To that Miller, responded, “VDOT is ensuring Studio Center receives all relocation benefits to which they are entitled.”

Miller provided this:

In accordance with Virginia Code and the Code of Federal Regulations, Studio Center is entitled to:

  1. Re-establishment expenses up to $25,000
  2. Search costs (for a replacement location) — up to $2,500
  3. Actual moving costs
  4. Or, up to $75,000 in lieu of the above items. Payment is determined on the tenant’s average net income for the last two years.

Studio Center’s landlord, SGC Properties, was also first notified in October 2015. SGC Properties vacated their property on March 19, 2017.

As you can see, there is a big gap between what Prettyman thinks he is owed and the $75,000 maximum VDOT is willing to offer.

“VDOT is required by law — which a federal judge just said it is a protective interest to find them a suitable location for them to move to — and VDOT has not done that,” Kunze said, referring to a finding in the Dr. Allan Bergano relocation case before federal Judge Henry Morgan, who found in favor of Bergano.

Last week, VDOT took out an unlawful detainer that Prettyman be removed immediately from the property due to “tenancy terminated.”

“I’m livid! This has been a personal distraction, a financial hardship for this company,” Prettyman said.

Last week, the Virginia Beach District judge refused to evict.

Prettyman and VDOT are appealing the case to circuit court. Prettyman points out he has 65 employees, 47 of which are considered full-time.

“This issue is also about how families are impacted by this legal dispute.”