Contractor sues Arlington County over park renovation pay dispute

Arlington County withheld nearly $1 million from a contractor that renovated a popular park in the East Falls Church area, the company has alleged.

McDonnell Landscape, which filed the suit against the County Board in Arlington Circuit Court on Aug. 17, had been hired to carry out long-awaited upgrades to Benjamin Banneker Park, a 12.5-acre facility along Four Mile Run that includes a major trailhead, a dog park and athletic facilities.

The Brookeville, Md., landscaper alleged that Arlington committed four breaches of contract by severely underestimating the required quantities of soil, concrete and excavation and failing to account for traffic management needed to carry out the renovations.

“This is a demand for payment for extra work performed because of defective construction documents, including specifications and drawings provided by the county,” said Laurence Schor, an attorney representing the contractor. “The county had sole responsibility for the design and omitted or was wrong in what they provided to the contractor.”

Ryan Hudson, a spokesman for Arlington County, said in an email that he could not comment on any pending litigation.

McDonnell Landscaping had previously turned down an offer from Arlington to settle the matter for $272,000.

In accordance with Arlington’s dispute-resolution language for contractors, the company appealed to the County Board in July. But lawmakers voted unanimously in closed session to reject the contractor’s claims.

Schor, the contractor’s lawyer, said the “no” vote was “like being dragged through the mud,” he said.

“It makes me all the more surprised: When they have a contractor who they retain after careful selection, they don’t pay them for work they know is performed,” he added. “We are showing true heart and civic interest, and it’s time for the county to pay up.”

In a March letter included in court filings, county officials said that a project officer for the park renovations said the deal was a lump-sum contract, not a unit-price contract, as the landscaper had been insisting.

Deputy County Manager Shannon Flanagan-Watson added that the landscaper had missed “numerous opportunities” to ask for clarification on traffic maintenance and did not notify of additional contract time in a timely fashion.

She offered to settle the dispute for $272,600 and waive damages accrued when the contractor did not finish the renovations on schedule.

Arlington lawmakers had three years ago awarded a contract of up to $2.6 million to the landscaping firm. McDonnell Landscape submitted the lowest bid among five bidders that was “responsive to pricing requirements,” county officials wrote at the time.

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