Norfolk Southern says DelDOT wrongly seized land
Hours before developers ceremonially broke ground on a new 10-story hotel on the Christina River waterfront Friday, Norfolk Southern Railway Co. filed a federal lawsuit that threatens to sidetrack a nearby cinema project recently started by the same real estate development group.
Norfolk Southern is asking the court to stop the developers from using alleged railroad property on South Madison Street for the construction of a parking garage adjacent to the 14-screen cinema now being built along I-95.
The lawsuit, filed against the Riverfront Development Corp., the taxpayer-supported organization charged with redeveloping the Christina River waterfront, and prominent Wilmington real estate developer Buccini/Pollin Group Inc., alleges the developers trespassed on railroad land and removed one or more of the railroad’s income-producing billboards.
According to the lawsuit, the RDC and developers intend to remove Norfolk Southern railroad tracks for the construction of the 375-space cinema parking lot. Norfolk Southern said it regularly uses the tracks, noting that the property is the only location in the area where Norfolk Southern rail lines and CSX rail lines come close enough to interchange rail cars.
Also named as a defendant in the lawsuit is Penn Cinema Management Co. LLC of Lititz, Pa.
Buccini/Pollin and Penn Cinema are partners in the theater, according to Penn Ketchum, managing partner in Penn Cinema Management.
At issue is a 2006 condemnation procedure by the Delaware Department of Transportation, which now claims to own the property in dispute. Norfolk Southern alleges it was never notified of the eminent domain action and that DelDOT failed to do its proper due diligence.
According to the lawsuit, in the condemnation proceedings DelDOT said there were “no known owners” for the property when, in fact, it was simple matter to determine ownership. When Norfolk Southern found out about the seizure years later, it began negotiations to resolve the matter outside of court, the lawsuit says.