Weyers Cave mega-secrecy, fears of eminent domain
Potential 1,600-acre industrial complex near the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyers Cave, Virginia. The feasibility study has been the subject of some controversy because the board has refused to release it. At a board of supervisors meeting earlier this month, hundreds of residents voiced opposition to the proposed development and what many view as the secrecy surrounding the study.
"Megasite Study May Be Released Next Week"
By Dan Kipperman, June 26, 2006, The Daily News Record.
WEYERS CAVE — A $440,000 megasite study in Augusta County could be made public as early as next week, officials say.
Earlier this year, the county Board of Supervisors approved the study, conducted by the Timmons Group, a Richmond engineering firm, which researched the feasibility of a potential 1,600-acre industrial complex near the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyers Cave
The study has been the subject of some controversy because the board has refused to release it. Board members say they didn’t want to release the study until they finished reading it.
At a board of supervisors meeting earlier this month, hundreds of residents voiced opposition to the proposed development and what many view as the secrecy surrounding the study.
"I can’t think of anyone that has contacted me and been in favor of the development," Supervisor Kay Frye said on Friday. "The community has accepted that there will be development in this area — people just want to make sure it’s done right."
Supervisor Wendell Coleman announced Friday that the study would be made public sometime in the next week.
"I’d like to make an announcement, as to when the study will be released, by Wednesday at the latest," he said. "The board is keenly aware of the public’s concerns."
The majority of the supervisors wanted to hold off on the release of the study until it had been completed.
"There were a lot of things that went into that study," Coleman said. "The industrial site was not the only item in that study. We wanted a complete look at it before we gave it to the public."
Supervisors Frye and Nancy Taylor Sorrells voted to make the study public earlier.
On Monday afternoon, the board will listen to a presentation given by Jeff Anderson, executive director of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, about potential megasite issues.
"The presentation is intended to be informational," said the partnership’s communications manager, Christie Miller. "It will cover economic development issues in the region, including issues surrounding the potential megasite."
Too Little, Too Late?
While Frye is pleased the study will be released in the near future, she would have liked to see it released earlier.
"I thought it should have been released two or three months ago," she said.
As a representative of the Middle River Magisterial District — the location of the proposed site — Frye says she wants to represent her constituents fairly.
"I see these people quite often and they have no idea what is going on," she said. "Most people are not opposed to development, they are just opposed to development on such a large scale."
Frye said the complete study is a 5-inch thick document of almost 400 pages.
Contact Dan Kipperman at 574-6274 or email@example.com
"This land’s taken: Eminent domain issue moves to front"
By Joel Banner Baird/staff, firstname.lastname@example.org
June 23, 2006. The News Leader.
WEYERS CAVE — Ronnie and Linda Peale are nervous about living a short way down a gravel road from the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport.
It’s not the airplanes or the helicopters. It’s the possibility that their property will be price-tagged and sold to a big industrial development.
The Peales live in a part of the county that is increasingly identified by its inclusion in a plan that has not yet been released to the public. Their small acreage is ground zero for an industrial mega-site.
“They say the first line of defense is knowing who your enemy is,” Ronnie Peale said. “We have no idea. It’s not quite what I envisioned to be the American Dream.”
Augusta County Administrator Pat Coffield said that eminent domain land transfers are rare in the county; the vast majority of the county’s negotiations for land have involved roads, schools and other public amenities.
“In 16 years, we’ve never had to go to court,” Coffield said. “For the most part,
it’s been willing buyers and sellers.”
He said condemnation was a “tool,” one that supervisors have viewed consistently as a last resort.
Is it a tool for economic development?
“The law says it is, within certain parameters,” Coffield said. “Eminent domain is not your first choice. But it is on the table.”
That possibility, even a slender one, troubles the Peales.
If the county government — or a large factory — wants their land, the Peales want to know about it. Soon.
They are not alone. Exactly one year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court legitimized a Connecticut city’s seizure of houses to make way for a large-scale development.
Those increased tax revenues, the court ruled, fell into the Constitution’s definition of beneficial “public use” of private land.
“This is a scary time,” said Linda Peale. “We’re living one day at a time. It’s enough to give you ulcers.”
Fears that the mega-site’s appetite for acreage might include their 1840s-era house and garden prompted her to search for help online. She found that Crozet businessman Arin Sime, the Libertarian candidate for Virginia’s 24th Senate District, had time to listen.
Sime paid the Peales a visit Wednesday morning. The threat of condemnation, he said, was common.
“You’d have to ask yourself, ‘what would it cost us to fight this?’ It won’t be worth your time to fight it in court,” he said. “But this isn’t just a numbers game. It affects real people.”
Eminent domain that benefits private industry, Sime said, amounted to corporate welfare.
Ronnie Peale said he and his wife hadn’t made up their minds what they would do if they were asked to sell.
“We might sell, but to replace anything in real estate is high,” he said. “When we moved here 25 years ago, there were five trees. We planted 219 more.
“Whoever wants this, they need to understand they’re buying more than just a house,” he added. “Never mind that it’s historical; they’d be buying my whole root system, my way of living.”
"Sime aims for Senate seat: Libertarian hopes to replace incumbent"
By Joel Banner Baird/staff, email@example.com
June 23, 2006. The News Leader.
WEYERS CAVE — Libertarian Arin Sime, a Crozet businessman, traveled to mega-site territory Monday in his campaign to unseat incumbent state Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, next year.
Sime announced his bid for the 24th state senate district earlier in the spring, but his focus on property rights has sharpened over Augusta County's plans for an industrial mega-site between Mount Sidney and Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport.
Speaking one-on-one with Weyers Cave property owner Ronnie Peale, Simes said he would oppose attempts by state or local government to expand an industrial site at the expense of private landowners.
"I don't have a problem when eminent domain (the process of condemning property) is used for a utility or a road, when small parcels are shaved off a property," he said. "But it's not all right when we're talking about acres and acres for an auto plant. I think it's wise for people to start raising those red flags now."
Simes said the Libertarian Party was a "natural fit" in the defense of property rights.
"Eminent domain has gotten way out of hand in Virginia," he said. "It's become a signature issue for the Libertarians."
Hanger said the Virginia legislature is in the process of clarifying eminent domain policy, but abuses are rare.
"There's a clear and unanimous consensus (in the General Assembly) that courts should not grant state or local governments the right to condemn land for economic development purposes," he said. "The intent of the existing statutes is clear, and it would certainly be ill-advised to circumvent the intent of the law."
Virginia's 24th senate district encompasses Augusta County, Staunton, Waynesboro, Lexington, Highland County and parts of Albemarle, Rockingham, Rockbridge and Greene counties.