Residents sue City of Norfolk over demolition of historic home

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk residents have filed a lawsuit against the City of Norfolk over the demolition of a historic home.

Neighbors of the historic Grandy House in the Freemason neighborhood of Norfolk filed the lawsuit in late October in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, saying the city didn’t go through the proper procedures.

“The one rule of the historic district is preserve the properties,” said Attorney Joe Sherman, who filed the lawsuit.

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The fight over saving a historic home in Norfolk broke out in a city courtroom back in 2018 after it caught fire in 2016. Neighbors in the Freemason area faced off with the city and the owner of a historic home on West Freemason Street.

Those who filed the suit say the property should have been restored and, at the very least, they should have had a say and been included in the demolition process of the property that was listed on historic registries.

“Preservation is meant to be a priority down here and the folks who invest in those neighborhoods are counting on those ordinances being upheld. For the city to turn a blind eye to those requirements to do as it suits them, it’s insulting,” Sherman said.

Sherman and the families listed in the 27-page complaint argue the Freemason district should have been consulted on what to do with the Grandy House. They had their own inspectors check it out prior to it being razed. Sherman says those inspections found the brick foundation intact.

“It was built in an era where it wasn’t uncommon to have a fire and re-build some of the interior,” Sherman stated.

Someone was interested in purchasing the property to rebuild it but Sherman says the property owner wanted to go ahead with an emergency order granted by the city to raze it. Ultimately, the lot sold for $675,000, which is $100,000 more than it was initially purchased for. The space, bought by a developer, has the ability to occupy three houses.

“The city stands to tax three houses. The property owner made $100,000 from the arson and everybody else who’s invested in the historic district loses. This landowner got special treatment that nobody else is afforded down here and the whole community suffers as a result,” Sherman said.

The lawsuit accuses Norfolk’s city attorney Bernard Pishko and city building commissioner Richard Fortner of acting in gross negligence, failing to follow procedural due process and destroying the property values on the Freemason historic district. Sherman says so far no one from the city has responded to the lawsuit.

“The city needs a strong admonishment for when it conducts business and when it decides to enforce its own laws,” Sherman concluded.

10 On Your Side reached out to Pishko and Fortner for comment. They did not respond.

To view the read full lawsuit, CLICK HERE.

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