Editorials, Opinion

Once is a mistake; twice is a pattern

We’re beginning to notice an alarming trend of the City of Morgantown building on private land without a signed agreement in place. First, it was the riverfront construction that ate seven parking spaces at the downtown Wings Olé, and now it’s the shifting right-of-way of Alley D in Sunnyside that’s eating about 3,000 square feet of Blue Sky Realty property.

 And the city seems to have a distinct M.O.

It starts with a verbal agreement, then proceeds to construction starting without any signed paperwork to back the verbal agreement and ends with unsanctioned building that encroaches onto private land, at which point the City of Morgantown shrugs its metaphorical shoulders and says, “Oops. Oh, well. Too late to do anything about it now.”

This is not conjecture. Communications Manager Andrew Stacy went on the record and said, “The city proceeded with the construction project without receiving the signed easement agreement” — which is exactly what happened with Wings Olé, too.

It’s extremely concerning that the city’s primary philosophy seems to be “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” Or worse yet, “we’re going to do it anyway, because we have the resources to beat you in a legal battle.”

What the heck, Morgantown? That’s not how this works.

For background, Jamie and James Craig, owners of Blue Sky Realty, have had a bone to pick with the city over TIF-funded projects in Sunnyside for years. For the Craigs, it started in 2015 when the city allowed contractors to turn University Avenue into a staging area for the University Place construction, which shut down a major artery from one side of Morgantown to the other. You may remember the road was closed so long, it put the Sunnyside Superette out of business. And then, two years after that, the city-supported nonprofit Campus Neighborhoods Revitalization Corp. encroached on Blue Sky Realty property that had been used as a parking space, resulting in CNRC paying $50,000 to Blue Sky after the fact.

The Alley D remodel is really the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Craigs. And truthfully, it is for us, too.

This was ludicrous when it happened to Dan Nagowski and his Wings Olé — stupid, certainly, but understandable as a one-time mistake. Now it’s absurd, bordering on obscene, to see the city do the exact same thing to another business.

In what universe is a verbal agreement alone enough to justify moving forward with such a project? Commonsense would say a verbal accord on its own would just lead to an it said/they said argument in court, which is why one should have the paperwork in hand before ever breaking ground. Unless, of course, the offending party is confident it can get away with it.

It seems the matter will end up in the courts, where hopefully this “oopsie-daisy” act the City of Morgantown puts on will be recognized for the predatory behavior it is. Because this will keep happening — again and again, for as long as Morgantown’s lawyers think they can win in court or force a settlement — until someone puts a stop to it.