Huntsville Businessman Sues City Preservation Board for Fraud

What should you do when city commission members, first approve, and then deny your plans to build a house after you have bought the property and tore down the existing house?  If you are a wealthy businessman, you sue the city for fraud and conspiracy.

When a wealthy Huntsville businessman was denied permission to build a large Greek revival-style estate on Echols Avenue, he responded by suing the city for fraud, negligence and conspiracy.

Echols Properties filed the lawsuit last week.  The limited liability company registered to William S. Propst, asks a judge to “terminate and remove” the five Huntsville Historic Preservation Commission members who voted against the house.

The May 14th vote, amounted to an “inverse condemnation” of his land by rendering it unsuitable for its intended purpose, alleges Bill Propst, Jr.  He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well attorney’s fees.

The lawsuit stems from the board’s vote earlier this month blocking Propst from starting construction on a home at 415 Echols Ave. in Twickenham.  The board raised concerns that the ornate, two-story house would tower over neighboring homes.  The estimated size of the Propst estate was 15,000 square feet.

Four of the preservation board sided with Propst.  One member of the board who sided with Propst, Peter Lowe, said it would be “unconscionable” to tell Propst no after approving design plans for the home at a November 14, 2011 meeting.  Propst was also allowed to tear down the former residence to make room for his estate.

Burwell, the preservation board’s president, warned at the outset of the May 14 meeting, that a no vote six months after approving architectural drawings of the Propst residence could land the city in court.

In Propst’s lawsuit, it states there are no height restrictions listed in preservation commission regulations or historic district design guidelines.  Basically the rules say that new construction “typically should not exceed the height of the tallest adjacent historic building.”

Propst’s attorney wrote that the defendants … owed (Propst) a duty to honor the approval of the 2011 Application and the Echols House, including its design and scale, and to properly evaluate the 2012 Application in light of the (preservation commission’s) prior precedential decision.

Propst, Jr., is the son of Vintage Pharmaceuticals founder William S. Propst, Sr., who in 2007 sold the company for approximately $1 billion.

In 2009, Propst, Sr., and his wife donated $5 million to the city to upgrade the Von Braun Center arena, now known as Propst Arena.


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