ALBEMARLE — After winning a three-year battle against the City of Albemarle over his downtown low-income housing property, Chuck Nance is preparing to go on offense, with his federal case against the city for civil rights violations set to begin soon.
According to Nance, the city only offered him two choices — use his “Heart of Albemarle Motel” property for something other than low-income housing or sell the property to the city. Nance told SCJ the city sent multiple people to try to convince him to cooperate by pursuing something that would fit better with their downtown revitalization plans.
“They sent a gentleman from the UNC School of Government named Rory Dowling whenever they were doing the studies about bringing Pfeiffer College to downtown Albemarle,” Nance said. But when Nance told Dowling he preferred to move forward with his low-income housing plans, that’s when Nance believes the city decided to pursue a strategy of declaring his property a nuisance.
Albemarle Mayor Ronnie Michael, who is a defendant in the federal lawsuit filed by Nance, told SCJ on March 16 that the city council never had any discussions about excluding low-income housing from downtown. He wouldn’t comment on many of the particulars of the case, because it is an ongoing matter, but did say Dowling had represented the city.
“Rory Dowling was under contract to the city to assist in downtown revitalization, but I’m not going to comment on Nance specifically,” Michael said.
The case will hinge on whether Nance’s property was a public nuisance and was treated like any other property under those circumstances, or whether the nuisance accusations were indeed, as Nance suggests, just a way the city could force the low-income tenants out.
Nance told SCJ he was only told one time that his property was a nuisance, and when he was notified, he said, “I acted immediately — evicted my tenant and all her sub-tenants and acted within 28 days to a 45-day notice.”
The city argued that there were drugs, violence and prostitution going on in the complex, and had 79 calls to the police over three years as evidence. Nance doesn’t deny this, but said those calls mainly came from his tenant, who managed the business, and she was trying to prevent crime from occurring. He also said it isn’t unusual for low-income housing to require regular police response.
“The claim was that there were 79 calls to our property in a three-year period. Well, that may very well be true, but the city itself owns a piece of property that had in excess of 1200 calls to it in less amount of time,” Nance said, referring to Amhurst Gardens, a low-income housing development which is run by the city.
Michael said he would not comment on crime at Amhurst Gardens because it was being used as evidence in Nance’s case. Nance said his attorney did depositions on the police chief, the ALE investigator, the city’s HUD home inspector and others, and “found out a lot more than we anticipated to find out.”
“Once all this evidence was on our side, was when we decided to file our civil action against them for a multitude of items. The main thing was the discrimination factor that they didn’t want that type of people in downtown Albemarle.”
Michael said their counsel who represents the city has decided not to pursue the case any further against Nance. The current case in fact can’t be pursued any further because the state Supreme Court has denied Albemarle’s motion for discretionary review of a lower court decision. It was denied on a procedural basis, because the city council hadn’t approved the original action, but the city is also not going to fix this detail and refile, at least for now.
“At this point, counsel has decided not to pursue anything further,” Michael said. “That could change down the road. I don’t suspect it will, but it could change. Who knows?”
Nance said in response, “As far as that case goes, there is no further that they could carry it. They are bound now by statute to pay my legal fees along with their legal fees — which is pretty astronomical.”
The cost of the original case and the federal civil case, if the city loses that as well, will cost Albemarle hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Nance. Michael said he didn’t have a figure, and the number wouldn’t be finalized until the case was complete.
Nance now has every property he owns in Albemarle up for sale and has relocated to Wilmington, N.C.
“Preferably I’d like to stay home, but it was sort of the like the city ran me out of Albemarle,” Nance said, claiming that his reputation has suffered to the extent that many people in Stanly County won’t do business with him anymore. “I own a multitude of properties in Albemarle, and every property I have in Albemarle is for sale.”
“I’m expecting it at any time,” Nance told SCJ on when the civil trial will proceed. “All the briefs and everything have been filed in federal court and we’re just waiting for the judge to decide on which portion of our complaint will be heard.”