Virginia Beach dentist sues city over property dispute, requests federal investigation

Allan Bergano speaks to supporters at a rally on Nov. 10, 2015, outside his dental practice on North Witchduck Road.
Allan Bergano speaks to supporters at a rally on Nov. 10, 2015, outside his dental practice on North Witchduck Road.

A dentist who says the city intentionally disregarded his rights in an eminent domain case has filed a federal lawsuit over the matter and asked two senators and a congressman to seek an investigation into it.

Allan Bergano alleges in his complaint that the city acted at times with malice and with “callous disregard” for his constitutionally and federally protected rights regarding his longtime dental practice on North Witchduck Road. He also alleges the city failed to train its employees on areas of law involving displaced people and relocation benefits following a government’s acquisition of property.

Bargano’s lawsuit was filed late Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Norfolk by his attorney, Joe Waldo of the eminent domain firm Waldo & Lyle.

City Attorney Mark Stiles provided the following statement Wednesday by email through a city spokesman:

“We believe the city has treated Dr. Bergano fairly, but we have not yet seen the lawsuit, so we have no comment on it.”

In addition to the lawsuit, Bergano has sent letters to Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Rep. Scott Rigell outlining what he describes as his “mistreatment” by the city of Virginia Beach and asking them to seek an investigation by the Federal Highway Administration into the matter.

The letters outline the history of Bergano’s dispute with the city and mention the dentist’s civic involvement in Virginia Beach.

“Dr. Bergano, among many other civic duties, recently chaired FilFest 2015 at Town Center which celebrated Filipino heritage and brought thousands of visitors to the City,” the letters say.

They are signed by the chairman of the Filipino American Community Action Group and the vice chairman of the Council of United Filipino Organizations of Tidewater, in addition to Bergano.

Bergano has leased space in an office building on Witchduck Road and practiced there for 32 years. He says the city acquired that building under threat of condemnation in 2014 for a road expansion project, and told Bergano that he would have to move his practice and be entitled to relocation assistance.

Bergano spent a year and thousands of dollars seeking a new location; when he signed a lease for a new spot, the city denied his request for relocation assistance, according to an email from a city employee that was filed with the lawsuit. Bergano’s estimated cost for build-out and equipment for the new spot totaled $458,000.

The city then reversed course and said Bergano could stay where he was. The city, after acquiring the building, had moved its Human Services Department into the offices around his dental practice, however, taking up parking spaces, bringing prisoners in handcuffs for evaluations, and drawing homeless people into the dentist’s office because all the other entrances to the building are kept locked, the letter to the legislators said.

Bergano says that situation has forced him to move.

Deputy City Manager Dave Hansen released a statement in early November regarding Bergano’s complaints.

“The city has accommodated Dr. Bergano and promptly addressed his concerns,” it said in part.

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.

Bergano’s lawsuit, among other things, asks the judge to declare that Bergano is a displaced person under state and federal law and that the city deprived him of his rights. It seeks “appropriate compensatory damages” and attorneys’ fees and costs.

The city must adhere to federal law in the case because it received federal funding for the road expansion project, according to the complaint.

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