By Karen Sullivan
"Residents in the Elizabeth neighborhood have won a temporary restraining order to halt construction of an $18.8 million Mecklenburg County-owned parking deck for Central Piedmont Community College.
In their suit against the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and CPCC's trustees, the residents say the six-story deck at Seventh Street and Charlottetowne Avenue near Memorial Stadium is on public park property.
The group seeks a judgment that would void the county's lease of the deck to CPCC. The group also wants construction and operation of the deck to be declared illegal.
The plaintiffs - Melanie Sizemore, Clifton Settlemyer, Dawn Ballenger and Peter Tart - also want an order to revoke or invalidate building permits issued for construction.
The Historic Elizabeth Neighborhood Foundation, also a plaintiff in the case, asks that control of the property revert to plaintiff Eli Baxter Springs IV of York County, S.C., and heirs of Eli Baxter Springs, a land donor.
In an e-mail Thursday, Superior Court Judge Donald Bridges said he agreed to the restraining order, in part, because "the plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success at trial in this case."
The suit contends the city acquired several pieces of land as gifts for a public park between 1900 and 1910. The land grants helped create Charlotte's first public park, Independence Park in Elizabeth.
The suit contends donors charged the city and successive owners with maintaining the land as a park.
Mecklenburg County ultimately took over control of local parks. It acquired a deed for Independence Park in 1997.
Under its agreement with Mecklenburg County, Central Piedmont would lease the deck for 20 years for daytime use by students. The county would maintain control over the deck for evenings and weekends, said Jessica Graham, a CPCC spokesperson.
The suit wasn't a surprise to county officials, said Mecklenburg County attorney Marvin Bethune. County officials studied the property's history and decided to move forward with construction, Bethune said.
Despite the restraining order, Bethune said Thursday that the plaintiffs' move to reclaim the land for use as a park has come too late.
"Under the principles of adverse possession, they've got 20 years to come forward," Bethune said. "It's been more than 20 years. The county gets possession free and clear of those claims."
CPCC, which is handling construction, has seven contractors and 50 to 70 workers at the site. The deck was to open in August with 1,000 spaces that are in great demand on the college's busiest campus.
Construction could stop as early as today, and delays could add an estimated $400,000 to construction costs, Graham said. Costs would include moving cranes and equipment, securing the site and storing materials, Graham said."