Source: The Winston-Salem Journal
North Carolina House District 74 Rep. Jeff Zenger (R-Forsyth), a man known for introducing bills that would benefit and enrich developers like himself, is nearly $2 million richer after reaching a settlement with the town he lives in over a failed development deal, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
The story begins all the way back in 2004 when Solomon Development LLC, Zenger’s company, purchased a 0.77-acre plot of land across from Shallowford Square, the town square in downtown Lewisville, for $50,000. Fourteen years later, in 2018, his company purchased an adjacent 0.8-acre lot for $15,000. In 2020, Zenger and Solomon Development went to Lewisville town officials with a plan to build a four-story apartment complex for seniors and a restaurant on the land.
According to the Journal, the planning board and town council (note: Zenger had previously been a member of both) turned down Solomon Development’s request because members believed “the proposal was not in line with the comprehensive land-use plan, nearby single-family houses and officials’ vision for development in the area.”
The four-story building Zenger and his company had planned for the space was too tall, according to town officials.
Solomon Development took the rejection and went back to the drawing board. In 2021 they came back to the planning board with a revised plan that only called for a two-story building. The planning board approved the new, shorter proposal and sent it on to the town council for the next step in the process, the Journal reported.
It’s at this point that things turned very sour between Zenger’s company and the Town of Lewisville. The town council rejected the development plan by a 5-2 vote. Feeling that the new two-story proposal met all the town’s requirements, Solomon Development decided to get lawyers involved.
Zenger’s anger at the Town of Lewisville over their decision to twice deny plans for the apartment complex he wanted to build is now costing the town’s taxpayers nearly $2 million – and if it was up to Zenger, that total would have actually been $8 million, the Journal reported.
Zenger and his company threatened the town with an $8 million lawsuit. Fearing the massive cost to the town, as well as the belief that Solomon Development had enough of a case that the threat needed to be taken seriously, the town and its lawyers sat down with Solomon to work out a deal. Eventually, the two sides went to mediation and came to an agreement on the outline of a deal, according to the Journal.
With parameters in place, Zenger and the town settled for just shy of $2 million – $1.975 million – in late February of this year.
Lewisville Mayor Mike Horn took Zenger and Solomon Development to task, letting the town’s residents know they would now have to foot the bill to pay a former town councilman close to $2 million for his pettiness over a real estate project.
“The real losers in this are the people of Lewisville who will be out $2 million from the general fund that could have been spent for a public use,” said Horn.
The mayor also released a statement to residents – against the wishes of Solomon Development and its lawyers – revealing the agreement between private parties that would have to be paid using public money.
“After many hours of discussion among council members, and at the advice of our attorneys, the council reluctantly agreed to this settlement to avoid a jury trial in which a favorable verdict for the town was uncertain and that could also have resulted in compensatory and punitive damages significantly greater than the settlement that was reached,” Horn said in his statement.
The law firm of Allman Spry Davis Leggett & Crumpler was caught by surprise by Horn’s announcement and fired back, calling his statement “potentially inflammatory.”
“Solomon did not expect the mayor to make a unilateral and potentially inflammatory public statement at the meeting, given that the attorneys for both sides are still in the process of documenting aspects of the settlement, including addressing when and how the settlement would be publicly announced, which is often an agreed component of settlements such as this,” a statement from the law firm read.
For his part, Zenger took the money and ran back to the legislature in Raleigh.
The Winston-Salem Journal reached out to Zenger but received no response. Amy Jordan, a legislative aide of Zenger’s, told the Journal they had “nothing to add” and that anything about the deal “will have to come from the attorney.”
Simply put, Rep. Jeff Zenger threatened officials in his own town and received almost $2 million from them for not building anything on land he paid $65,000 for.
According to the Journal, the Town of Lewisville now has to pay almost 15 times the tax value – $136,300 – for just 1.57 acres of its own land.
Click here to read more about the bills Rep. Zenger has introduced in the legislature to benefit himself and other developers.