If the Weddington Town Council has its way, Providence Volunteer Fire Department will be out of the Hemby Road fire station by the end of July.
The council voted 3-2 at its July 13 meeting to lease the town-owned fire station, with an option to purchase, to the Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department. The council decided in April to end the town’s 10-year contract with PVFD, effective July 29, and enter a new fire service agreement with Wesley Chapel.
But Providence Volunteer Fire Department and its supporters are fighting the move.
On July 10, attorneys for PVFD filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the town, which is scheduled to be heard by Superior Court Judge W. David Lee at 10 a.m. July 27.
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If granted, Providence cannot be forced from the Hemby Road station before a lawsuit filed by PVFD has been adjudicated. Providence filed a lawsuit against the town of Weddington in June, citing breach of contract. On July 10, attorneys for PVFD filed an amended complaint against the town alleging fraud and “unfair and deceptive practices” by the mayor and some council members.
Weddington purchased the Hemby Road station from Providence Volunteer Fire Department in 2014 for $923,000. The town agreed to lease it to PVFD for $1 a year.
One of Providence’s attorneys is Weddington resident Christopher Duggan, who spoke during the July 13 council meeting’s public comment period. He said the amended lawsuit asks for much more than the $750,000 penalty that was written into the FSA for canceling the contract without cause. PVFD also is asking for attorney fees and “for damages to be trebled,” Duggan said.
“We’re also asking for that property back,” he said.
Duggan said his clients never would have transferred a $1.6 million piece of property to the town if they knew the agreement would be breached.
“I know the train has left the station,” Duggan told the council, “but you can call it back.”
Weddington resident Andrew Moore said he didn’t think the council should be making decisions on what to do with the Hemby Road station while the proceeding is pending in the legal system.
The vote on the lease agreement came well after the public comments. Councilman Bill Deter’s vote broke what would have been a tie, with Barbara Harrison and Michael Smith in favor of the lease agreement and Pamela Hadley and Don Titherington opposed.
Titherington said he opposed the motion because he objects to some of the wording in the lease agreement.
Hadley, a vocal supporter of the PVFD, said he opposed the motion on principal.
On July 14, Hadley sent an email expressing her disappointment with the council’s decision.
“The actions of this mayor and council convinced me to file today to oppose Deter for Mayor of Weddington,” she wrote. “I have just returned from Monroe Board of Elections and it’s official.”
Jack Parks, president of the PVFD Board of Directors, said about 1,000 people have a signed a petition online at Change.org asking the town to reverse its decision to cancel the agreement with PVFD. Parks said the night of the council’s July 13 vote, PVFD responded to four emergency calls at the same time, including a transformer and structure that might have been struck by lightning.
“We had four apparatus and 12 firefighters out last night working,” Parks said. “But the mayor thinks it’s okay to eliminate our department.” “We’re going to let the court decide,” he said. “Let the judge, or hopefully a jury, decide.”
Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer; firstname.lastname@example.org.