City of Fairmont sued for 'improper and unlawful' taking of property

May 20—FAIRMONT — A local business man has filed a lawsuit against the City of Fairmont surrounding a piece of property that could play a key role in revitalizing Merchant Street in East Side.

In the lawsuit, property owner Stanley M. Sears is not seeking any type of monetary damages, but states that he is "entitled to payment for the full market value of the property prior to the taking." The suit also seeks attorney's fees, survey costs and "other costs and expenses" associated with being forced to take legal action.

Sears simply wants a clarification that he owns the property at 100 Merchant Street that, according to the suit, was first purchased by his son, Scott Sears, on April 5, 2005 and later deeded over to Stanley M. Sears on April 13, 2018.

Both men say the city has killed three attempts to sell the property.

"Since 2019, we have had three potential buyers at three different times who made written offers and each time, once we started the process of getting to the point of closing the deal ... the city stepped in beyond their boundaries and told each buyer that we did not own the property," Scott Sears said.

Calls to the City of Fairmont aimed to speak with City Manager Valerie Means, City Planner Shea Strait or City Attorney Kevin Sansalone, but neither person was available for comment.

Earlier this year, in an attempt to ask city officials to sit down and discuss the matter, during a regular city council meeting, Stanley M. Sears presented each city councilor with a packet that contained copies of certified land surveys, plats and deeds of the property in question. However, Scott Sears said nobody from the city has reached back out to him or his father regarding the stalemate.

"What the city's interference has done is scare off people who wanted to create a business that would have provided good jobs and also enhance Merchant Street and here we have our own city government stepping in and preventing that from happening," Scott Sears, who has previously served as mayor of Fairmont, said.

Sears said that the property, which includes a building and a parking lot overlooking Palatine Park, was listed at $98,000 last year. In April 2022, one potential buyer wanted to "put a full-service restaurant in with inside and outside seating," Scott Sears said.

According to the lawsuit, the tract of property in question was surveyed in 1992 "and approved by the City of Fairmont."

"What's worse is the city has blatantly ignored our requests sit down and review the land surveys, the deeds and the plats and compare things," Scott Sears said.

Sears said the Marion County Tax Assessor has accepted the boundaries of the property since it's been in his family's ownership and has never disputed the validity of the documents.

"Significantly, the 1992 survey demonstrates the disputed portion, which is now being encroached upon by the City of Fairmont, was not part of the Norfolk Southern Railway Company property purchased by the City of Fairmont," states the lawsuit. "The City of Fairmont did not obtain an easement or other right of right over (Sears') property."

The suits also points out that the Sears went so far as to hire a surveyor who performed "a survey and historical investigation of the boundaries of the subject property and the adjacent property."

"This survey unquestionably demonstrates that the City of Fairmont has encroached upon and unlawfully taken and used property legally owned by the (Sears)," states the lawsuit. "The City of Fairmont's possessive actions constitute an improper and unlawful taking of Plaintiff's property."

Reach Eric Cravey at 304-367-2523.