Friday, July 3, 2015

Is there a River Run phase six?

That’s effectively the question being asked by a letter received by the town on June 13th from an attorney with the Hedrick Gardner law firm in Charlotte.  Writing on behalf of the River Run Courtyard Association – a sub-association of the larger River Run neighborhood – the firm raises several questions about some proposed new lots in the River Run area of Davidson.

In a column in early April, it was mentioned that the River Run Country Club wants to convert some of its golf course property to residential lots.  If successful, these sales would bring in several hundred thousand dollars to the club.

There have been several questions about the buildability of the land because it is significantly impacted by current flood plane lines.  However, beyond just the environmental questions homeowners have been questioning whether subdivision of these lots follows current town ordinances and procedures.

The Club has been pursuing an administrative approval from the Davidson Planning department to plat the lots for sale.  The neighborhood association letter contends that the development of new lots in the proposed part of the neighborhood should not be allowed under the ordinance which brought River Run into the town back in 1992.

If anything it would appear that this should be approached as more of a new development involving a change of use from golf course to residential and approval from the town board itself – not an administrative change.

The association’s attorney sums it up by saying “the River Run Country Club’s request to plat lots on Wildcat Trail and River Crossing Blvd. is a violation of town ordinances and not substantiated by fact, or the record. The Association strongly urges the town to reject the River Run Country Club’s request.”

All of that may seem like rather mundane land development back and forth.  However, that is not the most interesting part of the letter.  The association’s attorney closes with this.

“Should the town believe that further legal opinion is necessary; the Association asks that such opinion be obtained from an outside council. Town attorney Rick Kline, is as a founding member of River Run Country Club and has advised the Country Club on this matter. Furthermore, his long tenure as the council of record for River Run Limited Partnership, and thus, his probable involvement in drafting documents for both the Partnership and the Town, that are a part of the record, makes obtaining an outside opinion the only legitimate way to insure that the rendered opinion is unbiased and without even the appearance of impropriety.”


For those keeping score, this is now the second time in recent months that a homeowners’ association in Davidson is officially questioning the town attorney’s role in land development in town.  The first was by the Bradford neighborhood at the end of last year for Mr Kline's role representing that neighborhood’s developer.  In that instance, Mr Kline was asked to get an opinion from the State Bar on his involvement.  As of this writing, the neighborhood has not heard back on the outcome of that request.

Based on reviewing public record emails, when Mayor John Woods saw the letter from the attorney in the current River Run Club situation, he quickly came to Mr Kline's defense.

However, that defense was roundly refuted by the HOA with several examples of Mr Kline's involvement.  These examples took place over several months and include references involving senior town staff, the Planning Department, and regular citizens.

One of those references refuting the mayor’s defense is very direct.

In early October the club’s developer sent an email to a River Run resident concerned by the lot proposal, stating, “A Club member and attorney, Rick Klein has been kind enough to participate in the plat recording process to be assured that the plats correctly reflect all these restrictions.”

In another instance the town attorney’s advice to staff  that these lots would be “grandfathered” under the original zoning for the neighborhood was actually refuted by the town manager, Leamon Brice.

Based on speaking with people familiar with the situation and reviewing the public record, multiple attorneys have reviewed this proposal as well as other planning professionals and even the UNC school of government has been contacted.  Nobody appears to think these lots should be approved without a much more involved process.

Davidson’s town attorney has been with the town for nearly four decades.  He’s also been in private practice as a real-estate attorney during that time.  After seeing the recent repeated examples where things become a bit too gray between those two jobs, it may be time for the Town Board to ask him to choose which one he would rather do.

This post first appeared in the Harold Weekly opinion section at

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