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Village eatery goes to court against city over parking fees

City officials are not just preparing to head into the New Year, they are also gearing up to head to court over an unresolved dispute with a long-time Claremont Village eatery.

In August 2012, Mike and Sue Verbal, owners of Pizza ‘N Such restaurant in the Claremont Village, filed a complaint against the city of Claremont alleging city officials violated an agreement made in regard to more than $150,000 of in-lieu parking fees. Instead of requiring every business to provide a certain amount of designated parking, the city created in-lieu parking fees in the early 1980s to allow business owners to pay the city a fee “in lieu of” required parking.

The couple filed a lawsuit to try to recover costs they assert were misused. Unable to reach a settlement through negotiations, both parties will now be taking the matter before a judge, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho announced last week.

“The city council explored every viable option for resolving the lawsuit short of making a gift of public funds to the Verbals who, years ago in exchange for payment for parking in-lieu fees, were able to improve their property and earn rental income on additional businesses that generate parking demands on the city’s downtown village district,” Ms. Carvalho said. “Unfortunately, the Verbals rejected the city’s multiple offers resulting in the parties having to take this matter to trial.”

City administrators refused further comment because of the pending court case.

A court date has not been set, according to Mr. Verbal. In fact, the Claremont businessman said that he thought a price had been negotiated and agreed upon until a few weeks ago, when his lawyer informed him the city had rejected the discussed settlement in favor of a trial. Mr. Verbal could not disclose the terms of the negotiation, but maintained he “was taking a good hit” in order to resolve the matter.

“I’m disappointed,” Mr. Verbal told the COURIER earlier this week. “I thought we would put this to rest. Nobody wants to go to trial, it’s kind of a headache.”

Mr. Verbal says he is prepared to take the city to task for what he feels is a debt unpaid. 

“I guess they [the city] wanted to go to court. I can’t imagine why they want to do that,” he said. “I think I’ve got a pretty good case.”

Matters in the Verbal’s case date back to the early 2000s, when the couple says they were encouraged by the City Manager Glenn Southard to expand their business. They decided to do so in 2002, paying $108,000 ($119,333.66 with interest) for designation of 12 new parking spaces as dictated by the city’s development requirements. Because there was not enough space to add 12 new spaces to the already packed east Village area, the Verbals payment went toward an in-lieu parking fund, which the Verbal’s contract said “can only be spent for the acquisition and development of off-street parking for the Claremont Village, or reimbursement of private providers of such parking.” If not used for that specific purpose, the agreement promised reimbursement.

At the time of the agreement, the “Village” included only businesses from Fourth Street south to First Street and Indian Hill east to College Avenue.

A few years later, the Verbals sought to expand again after an upstairs tenant went out of business. They eventually decided against it after learning from the city that they would need to provide 30 spaces at $9000 per space, or $270,000, in-lieu parking fees.  In order to dissolve the earlier contract, the Verbals agreed to pay a $45,000 in-lieu parking fee, worth 5 parking spaces.

After learning that their money was used for the Village West parking structure and not for additional parking on the east side, the Verbals filed a claim last August, hoping for an explanation and possible reimbursement. Their request was denied. Mr. Verbal said he felt he was driven to take matters a step further in filing a complaint that would lead toward possible litigation.

“Mr. Verbal paid the money and the city was contractually obligated to use that money within 10 years to do an assessment. It was not used,” explained Lawrence C. Ecoff, the Verbal’s attorney. “[Mr. Verbal] is being blamed for the city’s wrongdoing.”

The city has denied the allegations while further asserting that the Verbals “are not entitled to relief against the city as sought by the complaint.” In turn, the city is asking that the court grant recovery of its legal costs associated with the suit.

City officials maintain that the Verbals do not have sufficient facts to take legal action against the city and that their claim does not meet “the necessary statute of limitations,” which gives a maximum time period in which legal action can be taken against an alleged wrongdoing.

Both parties began their negotiations on May 30, during which time several offers were made, as outlined in a series of court documents obtained by the COURIER. By mid-September, however, the city had reached the limits of its settlement authority as authorized by the Claremont City Council. The Verbal’s lawyer was notified that this was the city’s last offer, according to their lawyer Christopher Pisano. A counter offer was sent a month later, and discussed at a closed session meeting of the Claremont City Council on November 12.

Though a court date is still unknown, the COURIER will continue to provide updates as information becomes available.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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