A long-time Virginia Beach dentist is decrying what he and his lawyers say is eminent domain abuse by the city against his practice.
A city spokesman relayed a statement Friday from Deputy City Manager Dave Hansen in response to the allegations.
“The city has accommodated Dr. Bergano and promptly addressed his concerns,” it said in part.
Allan Bergano said the city told him last year he would have to leave the building where he has served patients for more than three decades because of a widening project on North Witchduck Road. He and his wife, Edwina, spent nearly a year looking for another location; when they submitted the potential costs of their move to the city, they were shocked at its offer for relocation help: $25,000.
Bergano said other dentists who moved for a nearby widening project on South Witchduck Road had received assistance ranging from $280,000 to $500,000. He appealed the city’s offer. The response provided another surprise.
The city withdrew its offer of $25,000 and instead said the dental practice could stay where it was, Bergano said. The reversal came in August, about a month before the September deadline he had been operating under to move, he said. The Berganos had already spent time and money looking for a new location — tens of thousands of dollars, they say — and had a lease on the new spot, near Town Center.
Staying put, however, seemed an untenable situation to Bergano. The city had purchased the office complex in 2014 and in August began filling it with its Department of Human Services. A building that Bergano once shared with chiropractors, insurance agents, a law office and other small businesses was now devoted almost entirely to government services that drew an unsettling clientele for Bergano’s staff and patients.
They began seeing prisoners in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs coming for evaluations and “indigent people sleeping” in the parking lot, he said.
Bergano said his practice is now the only business in the building. The incompatibility of a dental office surrounded by Human Services was one of the reasons the city wanted him to move in the first place, Bergano said.
Hansen, in the statement released Friday, said Bergano had a month-to-month lease when the city acquired the office complex a year ago, and that the city has offered him a five-year extension on his lease.
“Dr. Bergano has known he was not being required to move since August 2015,” he wrote.
Hansen added that “several parking spots” have been marked for the dental office’s exclusive use, and said the city will schedule “those rare visits” by inmates when Bergano’s office is closed.
“Inmates are occasionally – but rarely – brought to the new Human Services offices located in the adjacent building. They are brought through a separate entrance,” he wrote.
The city has upgraded electrical and plumbing systems, landscaping and more to the building, which was “was in very bad shape” when the city bought it, Hansen wrote. Moving Human Services there was intended to “offer essential services to Virginia Beach residents closer to where they live” and is “part of a conscious effort to improve Human Services for our citizens,” he wrote.
As for Bergano’s expenses, Hansen wrote that the city has offered to pay for the time the dentist and his wife spent in their search for a new place, “as well as any other contractual expenses that were undertaken,” but “no such expenses have been disclosed to the city.”
“The city has already paid $2,500 to compensate the real estate broker that Dr. Bergano engaged to search for a new office,” he wrote.
The Norfolk eminent domain law firm Waldo & Lyle is representing the Berganos in their case. A representative for the firm relayed a blistering rebuttal Saturday to Hansen’s statement on behalf of the couple.
“The city has been a terrible landlord,” it said. “We are being forced to move because of the hostile environment the city has created, an environment that will kill the business that has taken us three decades to build.”
About the inmates, it said, “At least the city admits they are bringing them. What they are not saying is that they are bringing them in handcuffs accompanied by armed deputies.”
If the situation is so safe, they asked, “then why is there a full-time security guard posted outside?”
As for the designated parking spots, the Berganos said they asked for eight spots but received only four, “and often they are used by human services.”
The rebuttal also says the city has not offered to compensate them the same way it did for the three dentists who moved for the South Witchduck Road project.
“And when we presented a relocation estimate of almost $500,000 one city official laughed in our face,” they wrote.
The Berganos are holding a rally at 3 p.m. Tuesday at their office at 256 N. Witchduck Rd. to call attention to their case. Allan Bergano said they want to hold local government officials accountable and keep other small businesses from facing the same treatment.
“If this can happen to me it can happen to anybody,” he said. “This is not about me. This is about small businesses.”