Manassas Journal Messenger | Haymarket faces $5 million lawsuit from grocery store owner

The Haymarket Grocery store may be gone, but it is certainly not forgotten by anyone involved.

The store owner, John J. Jinn, has initiated a $5 million bill of complaint against the town of Haymarket for breach of contract and fraud in condemning the building he was leasing from the town and trying to sell the property.

Haymarket condemned the Grocery store in January and boarded up the building in June. Through the glass doors and yellow police tape, stock could be seen sitting on the shelves.

Haymarket has been negotiating the sale of town center, a block of downtown Haymarket including the Grocery Store building, with Manassas businessman Creston M. Owen for several months. Owen is known for his purchase and refurbishment of sections of old town Manassas, and has said he wants to perform a similar transformation in Haymarket. Owen’s attorney, Michael R. Vanderpool, said Owen has placed a deposit for the property in a trust account.

Included in the Grocery’s lease with the town for the building at 15000 Washington St. was an option for ten-year renewal and a right of first refusal to buy the property should the town decide to sell. The lease wasn’t up until 2010.

Jinn has effectively frozen the sale by filing a lis pendens with the county’s land records office. This filing notifies anyone considering the property that it is currently involved in litigation.

Manassas attorney Timothy Purnell, who is representing the town in the dispute with the Grocery Store, said that potential buyers could still purchase the property, but they would have to do so without title insurance. This would make it unlikely a sale would proceed, Purnell said. Purnell said the town would push to try the issues as soon as possible.

“We’re confident the town will clear up the title,” Owen’s attorney, Vanderpool, said.

In other legal filings, Jinn claims that “the leased premises does not have any defects of a magnitude that would warrant or justify its condemnation…” and that he “believes the defects were manufactured by the Town in order to attempt to evict him and, therefore, illegally terminate his lease.”

The issue is further complicated because Jinn is not universally agreed to be the owner of the Haymarket Grocery. According to legal documents filed by the town, Rye Sung and Jung Kyu Lee claim they are the owners of the Haymarket Grocery.

Jinn said that he signed a sale contract with the Lees in August 2002, and that the building lease with the town was assigned from him to the Lees in October 2002. In the bill of complaint, Jinn claims the deal fell through when he learned the town intended to condemn the building, and he had to tell the Lees of the threat. In other court filings, Jinn said he had been aware of the town’s intention since October 2002.

“When Haymarket stepped in and evicted [the business] that killed the deal,” O’Connell said.

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