St. Albans Lawsuit

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Rehn West
erwest@radford.edu

St. Albans sanatorium has a long history in New River Valley, dating back more than one hundred years.  But that history may be coming to an end.
The historic landmark is currently at the center of two lawsuits that could result in the demolition.  Both lawsuits are between the Radford University Real Estate Foundation and St. Alban’s current owners – real estate company SHAH development.
Situated on a hill overlooking the New River, St. Albans was built in 1892 as a preparatory school for boys, though it’s most commonly known as a hospital for the mentally ill.  The hospital was closed in the sixties, and the empty structure has since developed a reputation as a haunted house and a hotbed for paranormal activity.
That reputation is arguably the only thing that has kept St. Albans standing to this day.  The Mountain Ridge Paranormal Research Society regularly conducts investigations there, in addition to hosting “ghost-hunts” that invite the public to partake in efforts to communicate with the undead.  In order to raise money for the building’s restoration, the Paranormal Society also hosts a seasonal haunted house at St. Albans.  But the building’s use as a commercial venue violates the land’s designated zoning order, according to a suit brought forth against the landowners by the Radford University Real Estate Foundation.
Last September, the foundation asked to the Pulaski County Zoning Administer to determine the zoning classification of St. Albans and whether current use within the counties zoning ordinance.
The county’s zoning administrator told the university foundation that St. Albans is classified as a commercial zone, and the haunted house operation “in compliance with the Commercial Zoning District Statement of Intent.”
In December 2012, the university foundation appealed the decision. According to a lawsuit filed in Pulaski County, the Foundation arguing that the interpretation of St. Albans zoning classification is incorrect. The university says that the property should be classified as a commercial amusement park because of the haunted houses and ghost tours. Under this new classification, the university argues, Shah Development should be required to “apply and obtain a special use permit for such use of the property”.  A court date for the case has yet to be determined.
David Hagan owner of Shah Development and St. Albans, said he is very supportive of Radford University is disappointed in the RU Real Estate Foundation.
“I think they are spending a great deal of the Foundation’s money for causes I don’t think they will win,” Hagan said.  “They’re just not very good neighbors.”
Radford University Real Estate Foundation attorney John N. Spicer, declined to comment on the case.
In addition to the zoning dispute, Shah Development has filed a separate suit against the Foundation for “breach of right of way.”  Right of way is a legal term used to describe the privilege to pass over or use the land of another.  Hagan says the Foundation, which shares a driveway with the St. Albans property, ignored requests to not put up a sign on Shah Development property.
The attorney representing the Foundation moved to have the case dismissed, which was denied by the presiding judge.  The trial date was just recently extended.
The two lawsuits represent only part of a much longer struggle between St. Albans and Radford University Real Estate Foundation.  In 2007, while the Foundation was still in ownership of the St. Albans property, and came very close to having it demolished.  At the time, University spokesman Rob Tucker was quoted by the Roanoke Times as stating the building “has no practical use to the foundation.”
The property was subsequently sold to Shah in 2008.  And with the University rumored to be planning to expand operations next door, the lawsuit against St. Alban’s zoning classification makes more sense.
A Roanoke Times article from 2012 quoted Hagan as stating, “if the building remained open through 2012 then it would likely remain open permanently.”