Morgantown landlords file suit over university housing project

By By Jack Suntrup
Staff Writer

It may get harder for West Virginia University students to move into University Place in the near future, if rival landlords get their way.

David and Richard Biafora, of Metro Properties, LLC, and Dan Shearer, filed suit against the city of Morgantown in July, alleging the city has failed to inspect buildings and collect fees from private developers constructing apartment complexes on university-owned property. Because the land is university-owned — even though it’s being developed privately — WV Campus Housing (the developer) and WVU have not been subject to some of the local building inspections and fees with which other developers must comply.

“It’s an unfair playing field,” David Biafora said. “It’s shorting the community of all its fees and taxes that would be due.”

There will be a hearing in Monongalia County Court at 10 a.m. today.

Plaintiffs would like the court to issue an injunction to stop construction on the University Place complex and the College Park complex until city building inspections have been conducted and proper fees have been paid to the city by WV Campus Housing.

John Bolt, WVU spokesman, said that the University Place land and building are “100 percent” university-owned, exempting them from the city inspections.

“Because we are a state agency, we are not subject to local building codes,” Bolt said. “However, we are subject to state fire codes and we work closely with the state fire marshal.”

But the suit claims that the project is privately financed and privately insured.

If the project was really headed by a state agency, it would be built with public funds and insured by the state, the suit claims.

Also at issue, though not mentioned in the lawsuit, is that WVU’s property is not subject to the same property taxes as the previous buildings that occupied the land, Biafora said.

But Bolt said the university’s public-private projects are expected to generate nearly $74 million for local and state coffers over the next 40 years, exceeding what previous property owners had contributed. For example, there is a Sheetz grocery store and other shops planned on the bottom floor of University Place, which Bolt said would generate sales tax for the city.

Ryan Lynch, the developer with WV Campus Housing, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. City Manager Jeff Mikorski also declined to comment for this article.

During the 2012 fall semester, WVU officials announced they had purchased blocks of property in Morgantown’s Sunnyside neighborhood for $14 million. Students had to move from their houses in the middle of the school year.

This summer it was announced that the project would not be completed in time for the 2014 fall semester, though WVU officials had previously said it would be ready.

Though the university assisted students in finding temporary housing, many students were unhappy at the late notice and their upended plans. A new move-in date has yet to be announced.

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