BOS, commission added to lawsuit

Published 6:29 pm Thursday, November 4, 2021

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The Charlotte County Board of Supervisors (BOS) and Planning Commission have now been added to a lawsuit initially listing SolUnesco, a Reston Virginia solar development company, a real estate broker and a county citizen as defendants.

John Janson, a South Hill attorney, filed the original lawsuit in Charlotte County Circuit Court on Sept. 28 on behalf of Faye Trent individually and as a fiduciary of Ruth A. Hansen Wilcox, after Trent said SolUnesco and company CEO Frances Hodsoll obtained a signed land lease option agreement dated Nov. 23, 2020, with Wilcox, who was incapable of making such decisions.

In an email from Janson on Thursday, Oct. 28, Janson confirmed that on Oct. 20, an order allowing an amended complaint to add to the BOS and planning commission was executed.

In the 50-page amended lawsuit, Janson listed the governmental defendants, i.e., the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors of Charlotte County, had actual notice of the legal deficiencies in the conditional use permit application executed by Wilcox but nevertheless wrongly recommended and approved the application.

On Friday, Oct. 29, BOS Chairman Gary Walker said in an email that the Board had not met with the attorney as of the time of his email. 

“I don’t know any of the facts of the suit,” Walker said. “So… at this time, I have no way to comment.”

According to County Administrator Dan Witt, the county has insurance through VACORP, who will assign an attorney to defend both Charlotte County BOS and the Charlotte County Planning Commission.

“The assigned attorney will review the lawsuits and advise both Charlotte County BOS and the Charlotte County Planning Commission on the next steps,” Witt said.

Wylliesburg/Red Oak Supervisor Kay Pierantoni, who has been outspoken over solar issues, said in an email when asked questions, “Unfortunately, since it is a lawsuit, I do not believe it appropriate to respond.”

At the heart of the lawsuit is SolUnesco, seeking to construct one of the nation’s most extensive solar facilities in Charlotte County at 800 megawatts in the Randolph area of the county.

According to the original 40-page document, the lawsuit aims to dissolve contractual agreements to build the solar facility and recover monetary and punitive damages.

In the Oct. 20 edition of The Gazette, Hodsoll said no wrongdoing was done.

“While the lawsuit has no merit, the legal process is nonetheless slow,” Hodsoll said.

In addition to SolUnesco and Hodsoll, the suit names real estate broker Sandra Ann Towne and her company Properties of Virginia LLC and landowner William Berkley Devin as defendants.

According to lawsuit documents, the defendants, individually and together, talked Wilcox, 83, who is known to have dementia, into granting an option to SolUnesco to lease her family farm for use in the Randolph Solar project.

The lease option agreement grants SolUnesco an irrevocable five-year option to lease Wilcox’s entire 96.76 acres for the Randolph Solar project.

The lawsuit claims this was done after Towne and Hodsoll were told more than once by Trent that Wilcox was not interested in providing anyone with an option to lease any real property for use in the Randolph Solar Project.

In a letter dated July 12, 2019, Paul Buckman, M.D Wilcox’s primary physician, wrote: “Based on her short-term memory impairment and poor safety awareness due to her dementia, it is my professional opinion that Ms. Wilcox is incapable of making informed decisions about her health and safety and these decisions should be made by her Power of Attorney based on her previously executed advanced directive.”

The lawsuit also states that William Berkley Devin, who owns a large portion of land included in the Randolph Solar project, needed SolUnesco to obtain Wilcox’s land in order for his land portions to be included.

Documents show that Hodsoll signed the lease agreement on behalf of his company. The suit notes that Wilcox was given a payment of $3,000.