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DOJ starts investigation of racial discrimination allegation against Powhatan supervisors

DOJ starts investigation of racial discrimination allegation against Powhatan supervisors

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POWHATAN – The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice recently informed the county that it has initiated an investigation into potential racial discrimination by the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors because of a 2018 decision to deny a rezoning application for an apartment complex.

A letter from the department of justice was sent to supervisor and chairwoman Angie Cabell, who represents District 3, in November announcing the investigation into whether the supervisors had violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Cabell was the lone person who voted against denying the project.

The FHA prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and other protected classes in zoning decisions. “The focus of our investigation will be whether the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors has unlawfully discriminated on the basis of race in the denial of a rezoning application submitted by KCG Development LLC for the construction of an affordable housing development known as The Reserve at South Creek,” read a letter from Sameena Shina Majeed, chief of the housing and civil enforcement section.

County administrator Ted Voorhees last week declined to comment pending the outcome of the investigation other than to say, “Powhatan County is cooperating fully with this informal investigation and asserts that it has lawfully exercised its zoning powers in the matter of inquiry.”

On Feb. 26, 2018, the supervisors voted 4-1 to deny KCG Development LLC’s application to rezone a 26-acre property so it could build a 204 multi-family apartment complex in Powhatan.

The project, known as The Reserve at South Creek, would have been situated on land located at the crossroad of Old Church Road and Carter Gallier Boulevard. The developer proposed to finance the project using housing tax credits.

The case drew a great deal of attention from residents, many of whom spoke at meetings pertaining to the project. Most who spoke publicly vehemently opposed a project that would have brought low-income apartments to the county. A very small number had publicly supported it and argued it would fill a need in Powhatan for affordable housing.

A good portion of the arguments against the apartment complex included increased traffic on already congested roads, negatively impacting the rural feel of the county, extra burden on the schools, and increased crime. But some of the stronger rhetoric against the apartment complex was later cited in a letter sent to the county by a law firm representing the developer. The letter alleged that denying the rezoning request violated the Fair Housing Act and caused the developer to suffer “injury as a direct result of the county’s discrimination.” It offered to discuss resolution of the claims without the additional cost of litigation.

County attorney Tom Lacheney said in 2018 that he didn’t see a legal claim in it and that the county wouldn’t take action because the rezoning was denied and the case is closed.

The department sent a two-page request for different documents pertaining to the county in general and the KCG Development case in particular. Included in the request were: copies of the county’s comprehensive plan for 2010 and 2019 and a current zoning map of the county; a list of all proposed multifamily housing developments, workforce housing developments, and developments using federal low income housing tax credits or any other federal or state grants since January 2010, and a list of all proposed single-family residential housing developments since January 2010.

The letter also asked for all documents related to KCG Development; the zoning history of property where the project was proposed; sign-in sheets from the meetings where the project was discussed; documents related to the development provided by the Powhatan Citizens Alliance and any other civic groups, and any other documents or correspondence regarding the project.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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