Monday, October 30, 2006

George Allen to be at Omni: Pro-gay marriage rally with NAACP at Newcomb Hall

Senator George Allen will speak Tuesday morning at 10:30 at the Omni Hotel, Charlottesville's crown jewel of eminent domain abuse and the black community's primary grievance for decades.

In order to retain credibility of his position, Allen will have to explain how he supports legislation that would make the process whereby the Omni came into existence a crime. Otherwise, his attendance is implicit endorsement of the forced redevelopment of Vinegar Hill.

Allen will also appear on WINA's Morning Show.

Friends of George Allen

Jim Webb campaign website

"Webb Visits UVa" October 30 Charlottesville Newsplex

The rally to oppose the marriage amendment will be at 7:00 pm in the ballroom of UVa's Newcomb Hall. Julian Bond of the NAACP will be there. I heard about it on WINA's Charlottesville Right Now with Jay James.

Text of the Marshall-Newman Amendment


Question: Shall Article I (the Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to state:

"That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.

This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage." (Pasted from GayCville)


My google search doesn't return much for the 2 other amendments. Amendment 2 would allow churches to form corporations. Previously churches were specifically restricted. On Charlottesville Right Now, the voter registrar read the text of all 3 amendments.


This amendment would allow localities to tax different properties at different rates. Another way to look at it is tax incentives for property owners who invest money to improve their property. This form of discrimination, initially, would be targeted at 'blighted' properties. Government officials have no concept of a law actually applying to everyone. Why should only vacant or rundown properties get a tax break for increasing the tax base?

On the basis of equal rights, I'll vote No-Yes-No. Amendments 1 and 3 write dicrimination into the state Constitution while Amendment 2 removes discrimination againt churches.

"Ballot Questions 2 and 3 should pass, however. Question No. 2 would strike language from the state constitution banning the incorporation of churches. A federal judge ruled in 2002 that the language violated the U.S. Constitution, making this measure a case of overdue typographical cleanup.

Question No. 3 involves whether to allow local jurisdictions to offer partial property tax exemptions for both new construction and improvements to existing structures in areas of economic blight. Currently, they can give such exemptions only for improvements." (A Dangerous Amendment: Virginia's constitutional proposal to ban same-sex unions is a loser, but other ballot questions make sense. Washington Post editorial, Friday, October 27, 2006; Page A22)

Voters may decide fate of historic, vacant sites

By Blair Goldstein, , October 29, 2006, Lynchburg News and Advance
Ed McCann, executive director of the Lynchburg Housing and Redevelopment Authority, said it is often difficult to develop these lots since their accompanying legal documents are often as disorderly as the property itself.

As a result, the city often acquires the property and sorts out title discrepancies before selling it, often at reduced prices. McCann said property tax abatements could replace the reduced selling prices as the city’s incentive.

Lynchburg city officials say a proposed constitutional amendment could help attract private developers to blighted and historic areas of town.

On Nov. 7, voters will decide if local governments can offer temporary property tax relief to people who build new structures or improve existing ones in conservation, redevelopment or rehabilitation areas.

Lynchburg City Manager Kimball Payne said the city supports the amendment and hopes it will provide an incentive to development of vacant and rundown lots.

“Vacant lots kind of look like gap teeth, particularly in a downtown where you’ve got façades pretty much against the street,” said Payne. “…Vacant lots really look like something’s missing.”
There are eight designated conservation, redevelopment and rehabilitation areas in the city where the tax relief could currently be offered, including the Diamond Hill Rehabilitation District and Tinbridge Hill Conservation District.

Ed McCann, executive director of the Lynchburg Housing and Redevelopment Authority, said it is often difficult to develop these lots since their accompanying legal documents are often as disorderly as the property itself.

As a result, the city often acquires the property and sorts out title discrepancies before selling it, often at reduced prices. McCann said property tax abatements could replace the reduced selling prices as the city’s incentive.

The property tax exemption would be a percentage of the increased assessed value as a result of the new structure or building improvement. According to the accompanying legislation, local governments can allow for the tax exemptions for up to 15 years.

Currently, Lynchburg offers similar property tax exemptions under the Real Estate Rehabilitation Program. That program extends to renovations of any qualifying building in the city.

According to Greg Daniels, Lynchburg city assessor, 260 parcels are currently receiving that tax relief, with about $290,000 total revenue exempted.

Laura Dupuy, executive director of the Lynchburg Neighborhood Development Foundation, said the tax exemptions would be another tool to encourage people to invest in difficult projects.

She said her organization is currently working to redevelop the Tinbridge Hill neighborhood, where many small lots are vacant. She said some streets are completely empty except for one or two houses.

“It’s just one more way to make it attractive to deal with properties that, as they are, may be costly to develop on and urge (developers) to put the right investment in,” said Dupuy.

“(The city) will cut some of your cost, if you invest the right amount of dollars.”The incentive will cost localities potential tax dollars, since all property taxes are levied at the local level in Virginia. Those taxes are primarily used to fund public schools.

Kelly Harris-Braxton, executive director of Virginia First Cities, said vacant lots are not generating much tax revenue. She said that over time, the developed properties would do more to increase value in localities.

Virginia First Cities, a coalition of Virginia cities that includes Lynchburg, supports the proposed amendment.

“Right now you’re not getting much tax money out of it (vacant lots),” Harris-Braxton said.

“It’s better to get a little more than just taxes on a vacant land.”

Sen. Charles Hawkins, R-Chatham, was a sponsor of the accompanying legislation. He said the amendment is needed to give cities the flexibility they need to revitalize urban areas.

“We’re basically trying to bring back our core cities,” said Hawkins, “and give some initiative to people to reinvest in downtown areas.”

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Does free speech, like everything else, trump property rights?

Suppose a political candidate sees the crowd, walks into the yard[sale], and begins handing out his brochures. The owner might respectfully ask him to leave. But if he insists upon continuing to express his views, persists, and refuses to leave, is that an example of free speech? Or is it trespass?
ESSAY- Rights fight: Who wins in speech v. property?

Published October 26, 2006 in issue 0543 of the HooK, Charlottesville, Va.
By Tim Hulbert,

"Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech..."

"No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."

We all know– or should know– these sentences. They are cornerstones of our American liberties. Along with the other fundamental human rights masterfully articulated by James Madison and the architects of the Constitution, they protect us from autocratic governmental action.

When there's a contest between two citizens– or two or more basic civil rights– issues can become blurred. But only if we lose the constitutional focus.

For a year now, our community has seen a contest between two citizens-- Richard Collins, an individual, and a group of citizens, the owners/operators of Shoppers' World Shopping Center.

Ostensibly, this is a contest between two basic civil rights: free speech and private property. Both Collins and the Shoppers' World group have grievances. Collins alleges censorship; Shoppers' World claims trespass.

There are few if any people– certainly not Chuck Lebo and the principals of Shoppers' World-- who would deny the right of Rich Collins or any other citizen or group to express their political views and speech on the "village green" or in the "town square."

As Americans we celebrate this basic right. A dozen-- even 1,000-- people have the same right. In the latter case, the local government is required to accommodate peaceful assembly and speech while requiring that the organizers assure the health and safety of participants and onlookers.

Many of us would be outraged if any government sought to shut down such demonstrations of free expression, and the courts would agree with us. Our history-- our heritage-- is to protect the free speech of even such abhorrent groups as Nazis, white supremacists, and people who want to burn the flag and destroy the Constitution. We are strong enough as a nation to allow, protect, and defend public speech-– free from the tyranny of governmental repression.

Now shift over to the property of a private shopping center with the single commercial purpose to accommodate its tenants and their customers. Some citizens and legal activists attempt to make the case that a shopping center open to the general public for commercial purposes has become a modern American equivalent of "the village green."

But-– and as most courts agree-- private property is not the village green.

A wise law professor once said, "A horse is a horse and a cow is a cow. Even if you hang a sign on a horse saying, ‘This is a cow,' it is still a horse. And even if the state legislature passes a law saying that a horse is a cow, it remains a horse."

Consider the case of someone having a garage sale on a lovely spring Saturday morning in central Virginia. Of course the public is invited, one and all, to peruse the "stuff" for sale.

Now suppose a political candidate sees the crowd, walks into the yard, and begins handing out his brochures. The owner might respectfully ask him to leave. But if he insists upon continuing to express his views, persists, and refuses to leave, is that an example of free speech? Or is it trespass?

Almost all of us would see it as trespass.

Fundamentally, private commercial property presents a similar situation. And the Supreme Courts of the Commonwealth of Virginia and of the United States agree.

Private property does not "lose its private character merely because the public is generally invited to use it for designated purposes ..." the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled. "The essentially private character of a store and its privately owned abutting property does not change by virtue of being large or clustered with other stores in a modern shopping center ..." Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 US 74, 87–88 (1980).

What would happen if private commercial property were determined to be the legal equivalent of the "village green"? How would the private owners accommodate a group of citizens respectfully demanding to make their political statements?

Would they be guided by rules similar to those that apply to the government? Would there be any reasonable limits on the group's size, the timing of the demonstration, the level of noise, the traffic, the health and safety of the group-- and the center's tenants, employees, customers?

And who would pay for all this? Is it reasonable to assume that customers seeing the crowd would probably drive on to the next center? Should the private property owner be compensated for the cost and/or loss?

Back to the garage sale. Whose rights are violated? Whose are protected?

Rich Collins' participation in our political process is to be applauded. But it's important to remember that his right to free speech has been not denied. Only the location-- on someone else's private property-- is denied.

He and the rest of us can share our views in lots of places. We have, in fact, many "village greens"-- public places, public gatherings, media, and even private property-- where political speech and expression are permitted.

Sometimes the protection of civil liberties can take strange forms. Sometimes it can get a little messy. And sometimes the real civil libertarians in a contest aren't the obvious choices.

It is unfortunate that Chuck Lebo, a decent, dedicated citizen, has been portrayed as a villain for merely defending his constitutionally protected right to limit access to private property.

Defining private property as anything other than private property sets our society on a dangerous course against liberty itself– even in the context of advocating freedom to express political speech.

Let's hope that Virginia's courts stand by their long tradition of respecting and protecting the rights of both free speech and private property.


Albemarle Circuit Court judge Paul Peatross ruled on October 10 that Collins' allegedly sincere, though mistaken, belief that he was allowed to exercise his First Amendment rights and pass out campaign literature at the privately owned Shopper's World-- even after he was repeatedly asked to leave on May 7, 2005-- was enough to "negate criminal intent." Thus Peatross overruled the lower-court trespassing conviction.

Separately, Peatross also dismissed Collins' civil suit against the shopping center. However, with the help of the ACLU and the Rutherford Institute, Collins is pressing an appeal, hoping to make Virginia the seventh state-- along with California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington-- to consider shopping centers to be "village squares" for purposes of politicking.--Hook staff

"Land theft proponent invokes free speech defense in trespass conviction", July 20, 2006. Collins' statement supporting last year's Kelo decision and Blair Hawkins' rebuttal and exposition of Collins' record of urban renewal.

"Blair Hawkins Comments on Rich Collins' Community Land Trust Idea", May 11, 2005

We all want to help somebody. It makes us feel good.

And if our help makes things worse, at least we can say our intentions were noble. Then decades later, we can take pride in our good deeds and further propose the same programs that failed a generation ago and hope nobody remembers.

This is my take on Rich Collins, chairman of Charlottesville's urban renewal agency in the 1970s and current candidate for House of Delegates 57th district. I have to give Mr. Collins credit: he is bold. I wouldn't have the nerve to support programs that bring us the achievement gap.

Here is Mr. Collins bold new idea:

"A CLT [Community Land Trust] allows a non-profit or public entity to acquire land and then develop it for low and moderate income housing. A 99 year lease for the land at no cost, or low cost, allows the owner of the housing to acquire it an affordable rate. (Land prices are a major reason that housing prices are rising.) The owner of a house on CLT owned land has the attributes of ownership which we most value: security of tenure, privacy, and the ability to bequeath the lease and house to others. If the owner, however, decides to sell the house, the CLT has the right to buy it. The owner will be paid for improvements and some percentage of the increase in capital value, but the CLT, which owns the land, and has a long term interest in affordability, has the means to keep the unit affordable for another low income buyer. . The CLT concept provides a creative compromise between home ownership and affordable ownership over the long term."

Here are my concerns:

(1) How will the land be acquired? Given his background, Collins would likely support use of eminent domain to acquire the land. But he doesn't describe the process or address eminent domain fears of city residents and property owners. He leaves out this part as if to imply that the affordable housing goal is so lofty that any means necessary is justified. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in June whether it's Constitutional to use eminent domain to take land for the purpose of transferring ownership. Last session, 40 eminent domain related bills were offered in the General Assembly. I'd hate to see Charlottesville send to Richmond someone who would make it easier for your property to be taken away.

(2) Why can't a private, for-profit entity participate in a CLT? What special status must a developer possess in order to build affordable homes? Non-profits suffer from a credibility problem from the start because its profits (donations to salaries, operating expenses, surplus reinvested in the company) are exempted from the burden of taxation. Then it's a short road to believing you're exempted from all laws. If you're not specifically exempted, you can petition government and surely be exempted. You can also ask for corporate welfare in the form of grants and not even blush. In the recent city budget process, at a council meeting, someone asserted that the subsidy increases being requested by local charities (MACAA, JABA and others) were for pay raises, not to provide a new service or buy more food, for example. If charity is your source of income, you face a major conflict of interest.

(3) How can you be a homeowner and not own your home? If you have a 99 year lease, do you own anything? Can you cash out equity in your largest investment? Can you bequeath the property to anyone or does a bureaucrat have to verify that the transfer is within the rules? Can you put up the house as bond to get your child or grandchild out of jail? What other rights and privileges would you have to give up in order to take advantage of the trust?

How does a CLT connect to the achievement gap? The gap has two parts: People don't believe you can achieve so they don't give you opportunities or ever accept you as an equal. You don't believe you can achieve so you don't try to prove them wrong. After all, why should you work so hard? The slave master owns the land but lets you sharecrop as long as you profit less than the master, as long as the master has more rights than you. Well, you do have to live somewhere.

Why would Mr. Collins propose a program that does not seek to elevate low and moderate income people to full citizenship, equal rights, and equal treatment? Why should poor people not be able to profit from their investments just as their affluent neighbors do? If you want your children to grow up expecting to be denied full participation, "buy" a house in a government-owned "neighborhood." The poverty industry needs rethinking and reinventing, not retooling and repackaging.

Here's my idea. 15 minutes a day -- a house in 15 years. No matter where you work, keep a daily work journal. Keep track of your own time, duties, contacts. Verify that your pay is the correct amount. Writing a resume becomes easy as pie: just look through your journal and pick out the relevant accomplishments. Take ownership of your career by documenting it. Organize your bills, expenses, rent receipts. If you can record and document your work, you become more valuable as the documentation grows.
As your writing skills improve, begin to charge more money. (Remember: the employee sets the wage, not the

Then one day, when you're ready, take some of this documentation to a bank and ask for a loan to buy a house. Shop around for a used house or condo. Then begin paying a mortgage just as you've been paying rent all these years. This way, if property values go up, you can benefit fully. You can sell the house anytime to anyone (owner sets the price, not the buyer) and not have to share the crops with a slave master who "helped" you 15 years ago.

How to get a church out of your way: eminent domain

If they had held out for a better deal, they risked having the property condemned under eminent domain and receiving even less than the negotiated $460,000 and two acres of land nearby.
Old church needs rescue

The Daily Progress editorial, October 22, 2006, Charlottesville, Va.

We should be heartsick.

An historic African-American church lies under a death sentence, and the only possibility of reprieve would be for a benevolent benefactor to come along and save the structure.

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church has known for years that it would have to relocate. The church, founded in 1875 and built with help from former slaves, sits within a Federal Aviation Administration safety zone established to accommodate an expanding airport.

The airport authority has not offered enough money for the congregation either to move their current building or to build a new structure.

But if they had held out for a better deal, they risked having the property condemned under eminent domain and receiving even less than the negotiated $460,000 and two acres of land nearby.

In any case, although the congregation wants the building saved because of its sentimental value, they also want a new church. Upkeep on the old building is expensive, and it already suffers from a crack in the ceiling caused by vibrations from a plane that strayed too close.

Church members also realize that the location is unsafe, now that it lies in the flight path of aircraft.

Meanwhile, the church has endured another difficulty: It has been forbidden to expand at its present site.

When church members have asked for zoning permission to expand, they have been denied on the grounds that the congregation could not stay at the site. County officials also might have worried that any permitted improvements would have increased the value of the property and, thus, the settlement costs when time came for the airport authority to force the congregation to move.

But in the meantime, the congregation has dwindled significantly in number. Much of that is due to members dying or moving away. But the church’s inability to expand to offer new programs for the community also may have contributed to its membership decline.

Then there is the issue of the continued decline of the historic fabric of the black community.

“The question always is: ‘Why are African-Americans and their communities the ones that have to yield when progress is being pushed?’ ” said Scot French of Preservation Piedmont.

These communities are often the most vulnerable because they have the fewest resources with which to fight back.

Although there is no evidence here of any effort deliberately to target the vulnerable, the loss of the church nonetheless adds to the cumulative toll of vanished history and community cohesion.

Church members and preservationists still hope someone, or some group, will step forward with money to save the church by moving it. Airport authority officials say they are aware of one such possible rescuer.

We need to know more about that possibility. If the interest isn’t serious, or the proposed new owner can’t raise enough money, anyone else interested may find himself caught flatflooted, unable to move quickly enough to buy the church and get it moved.

The president of the NAACP says there should be more open discussion and debate about saving the structure. He’s right. Members of the larger Charlottesville-Albemarle community may have to pull together to preserve the historic structure.

But first, we have to talk to one another.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Va. governor: $12.8M state funds for 50-acre seizure for rail yard only if truly last resort

Tracking eminent domain

Norfolk Southern could use eminent domain to seize land for its proposed shipping yard.

By Greg Esposito, The Roanoke Times, October 20, 2006

Since announcing plans in June to build an $18 million intermodal shipping yard in Elliston, Norfolk Southern has faced criticism from local and state politicians and questions from concerned homeowners whose land makes up the proposed site.

The 50-acre site would include land owned by 10 families along U.S. 460 on the banks of the Roanoke River on the far eastern end of Montgomery County. While landowners have said Norfolk Southern has made it clear that it will use eminent domain to seize land if necessary, Gov. Tim Kaine and Del. David Nutter, R-Christiansburg, have spoken out against such a tactic.

With $12.8 million in state funds earmarked to go toward the site, Pierce Homer, Virginia's secretary of transportation, said the port won't receive any state funding unless the company convinces the state that no other site will work.

Irene Leach is an associate professor of consumer studies at Virginia Tech and president of the Consumer Federation of America. She's followed several cases involving eminent domain both inside and outside Virginia during her 23 years at Virginia Tech. She lives in Ironto, about four miles from the proposed site.

Q: Most people think of eminent domain as something that the government can do. How is it that some private companies have the power to seize private property?

A: Irene Leach: Companies, like railroads ... because of the needs that they serve, have historically been given this right.

Q: Has the definition of public use changed over the years? Can you shed some light on how it's defined?

A: IL: Public use has over the years been looked at in a lot of different ways, and it's been the focus of a lot of research over time ... in making sure that it is a broad benefit. Over time that has been allowed to mean a broad variety of things. Part of where it's been looked at -- the one that probably is in the front of people's minds right now -- would be the Kelo decision up north where people's homes were taken so there could be something brought into the area that would bring in more money. There was a decision made that it would be better for the whole if those people lost their homes so that they could put in big high-rise hotels. The most recent eminent domain that I can think of in our area would be when they [Norfolk Southern] brought in the trash train [in 1992 through parts of Roanoke and Montgomery counties].

Q: Do different states interpret eminent domain differently? Where does Virginia fall in the spectrum?

A: IL: That's where a lot of the action is right now, in how states interpret what that public use is. And Virginia, just like many of the other states, continues to have discussions about what it ought to be, how it should be done, and you look at the bills that have gone in the legislature the last 10 years or so. Each different year there's a number of different issues about eminent domain. I think it's one of those things where there's a continuing discussion and a continuing refinement ... and the federal government continues to look at it as well, so it's kind of a moving target in a way because we need it to be interpreted in so many different ways. Yet, the underlying piece is still the fact that we do allow some entities the right to condemn private property.

Q: From what you know about the situation in Eastern Montgomery County, is there any question that Norfolk Southern will be able to claim eminent domain if it comes down to that?

A: IL: I'm afraid that they are going to be able to do that. The state has a goal of trying to get trucks off of Interstate 81, and I think that people beyond this area think that it is something that would be helpful for everyone. And so I'm very much afraid that the people of Eastern Montgomery County are going to have very little control over this when it really comes down to it.

Q: How is it determined if something like the intermodal port will be for the public good?

The courts make that decision if people are not willing to negotiate and agree to do that. But again, they'd be looking at the benefit of people in the broad sense, not just the people of the county or even the state.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

'Blighted' house to be seized: eminent domain by Council vote or due process by Court ruling?

The Joneses own two other vacant properties in Charlottesville. One, at 818 Page St., is a lot that was cleared in 1998 when the city demolished a vacant house there. The other is an empty house at 524 Ridge St. This is the first house to come under the city’s blighted property ordinance, which was added to the city code in 2001.

610 Ridge Street was built in 1945, purchased for $12,800 on 12/7/1964 by L. Juanita and Ruth L. Jones of Silver Springs, Maryland, Deed Book 260 Page 308, and currently assessed at $166,100. The house is stucco wood frame, 2,218 square feet finished living space and 554 square feet unfinished basement, 2 stories, 2 full bathrooms, 7 rooms, 3 bedrooms, backyard.

Search Charlottesville City Assessment Records

610 Ridge Street initially condemned in 1992

Condemnation notice of September 19, 2006

524 Ridge Street

524 Ridge Street

Next door to 524

Condemnation Notice

"A World Class City"

Department of Neighborhood Development Services
City Hall. P.O. Box 911
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

September 19, 2006

Dear Sir or Madam,

As part of the City of Charlottesville's desire to keep its citizens informed about activities which might affect them, this letter is being sent to you as an abutting property owner or neighborhood association to inform you that the Planning Commission will consider a recommendation from the Director of Neighborhood Development Services to declare 610 Ridge Street a blighted property and to recommend a plan to City Council for the purchase or repair of the property. Staff plans to recommend a course of action for the City to purchase the property from the owner(s).

The property is located on the east side of Ridge Street, just south of Elliott Avenue, and is further identified on the City Real Property Tax Maps as Tax Map 29 - Parcel 263, having approximately 60 feet of frontage on Ridge Street and containing approximately 0.234 acres.

The Planning Commission and the City Council will hold a joint public hearing on this blighted property on Tuesday, October 10, 2006, starting at 7:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall. If you wish to address the Planning Commission on this matter, you must do so at this public hearing, as there will not be any further public hearings on this matter prior to City Council action.

If you have any questions or would like further information, please feel free to contact Jerry Tomlin, Building Maintenance Code Official, 434-970-3182, at the Department of Neighborhood and Development Services, 610 East Market Street, City Hall.

Sincerely yours,

Jim Tolbert, Director, Neighborhood Development Services

Officials declare house 'blighted'

Property may be bought, sold by force
By John Yellig, Daily Progress staff writer, October 11, 2006

The Charlottesville Planning Commission declared Tuesday that a vacant house on Ridge Street is "blighted," teeing up a move by the City Council to forcibly purchase the property from the absentee owners and sell it.
The council will vote at a future meeting on whether or not to go through with the purchase.

The commission’s vote followed pleas by relatives of the house’s owners, Juanita and Ruth Jones, to give them 90 days to hire a contractor to renovate the 102-year-old house.

"Our goal is to get this property fixed up," Urseline Inge, a niece, said, adding that they wanted to rent it to homeless families. "Hopefully we can use this property to get those families off the street."

Commissioners said the requests of the Joneses’ relatives were too late, noting that city housing inspectors have cited the Joneses with at least 50 property maintenance code violations since the 1980s. The house was condemned in 1992.

"It’s being demolished by neglect at this point," Commissioner Michael Osteen said, adding that he is concerned about how much work the house would require. "If we’ve got cornices that have failed years ago, gutters that have failed years ago, if we get in and start repairing … it could be a $100,000 project."

A city report estimates it will take at least $27,000 worth of heating, electrical, plumbing and roofing repairs to make the house inhabitable.

The value of the two-story, 2,218-square-foot house is assessed at $166,100.
Over the years, city crews have maintained the exterior of the property by boarding up first-floor windows and doors, painting the exterior and mowing the lawn. The Joneses, whose address is listed in Silver Spring, Md., have paid for all of the work along with their property tax bills.

They could not be reached for comment.

The Joneses own two other vacant properties in Charlottesville. One, at 818 Page St., is a lot that was cleared in 1998 when the city demolished a vacant house there. The other is an empty house at 524 Ridge St.

This is the first house to come under the city’s blighted property ordinance, which was added to the city code in 2001.

Other matters

The commission was also set to consider applications for preliminary site plans and special-use permits for two large projects.

The first, proposed by the University of Virginia Foundation, is a six-story medical clinic and a seven-story parking deck on West Main Street, just east of Jefferson Park Avenue.

The second is a nine-story condominium tower proposed for Avon Street, just west of the Belmont Bridge.
The commission had not voted on either proposal by press time.

Contact John Yellig at (434) 978-7245 or

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Hollywood landmark survives brush with eminent domain

Luggage king locks up win over eminent domain

Hollywood shopkeeper manages to keep ownership of building in face of redevelopment project

By Bob Pool, LOS ANGELES TIMES, Posted on Sun, Oct. 08, 2006

LOS ANGELES - Hollywood's luggage king refused to pack his bags and go when Los Angeles officials tried to seize his 60-year-old family business to make room for a high-end hotel development.

Shopkeeper Robert Blue fought back by blasting the city's use of eminent domain with a mocking billboard atop his Bernard Luggage store near the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.

Then he filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of his due-process rights, and in the process became a symbol of what some residents considered Hollywood redevelopment run amok.

And on Wednesday, the luggage man bagged a victory.

The city and Community Redevelopment Agency leaders announced that Blue's business will stay -- and the largest commercial development in Hollywood history will be built instead around the historic 1928 building containing his valises, suitcases, trunks and travel accessories.

The planned $500 million Hollywood-and-Vine project will include a 300-room luxury W Hotel and 150 condominiums, 375 apartment units and 61,500 square feet of upscale retail space.

Tucked into it will be the Bernard Luggage building, set back from the street another 12 feet and restored to its original, vaguely Spanish-colonial-revival glory.

Architects changed the plans for the sprawling development, notching in the building, which will be surrounded on three sides.

Blue, 46, will retain permanent ownership and use of the one-story 5,475-square-foot structure, originally called the Herman Building.

The structure can't compete with Hollywood's glamorous architectural landmarks like the El Capitan Theater, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and Capitol Records building. But fans see it as a symbol of Hollywood's golden era. It was designed by architect Carl Jules Weyl, who also drew the plans for the now-destroyed Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant next door. Weyl later went on to win an Academy Award for movie art design work on the 1938 Errol Flynn-Olivia de Havilland classic, "The Adventures of Robin Hood."

"This is a proud day for Los Angeles," Blue shouted over the noise of a 12-story crane parked a few steps away on Vine Street.

It was hoisting building materials onto the roof of a former Broadway department store building that is being converted into condominium units in another city-sanctioned redevelopment project.

The fate of the luggage store had become an issue of much debate in Hollywood, which is in the midst of a major revitalization and building boom. Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, both symbols of decay in the early 1990s, have seen a string of new retail and housing projects rise in the last few years as the neighborhood has become a hip destination again.

But some merchants and community activists have expressed concern that rebirth has come at the expense of Hollywood's past, including several movie houses and TV studios. Preservationists have battled to save Florentine Gardens, the Palladium and CBS Columbia Square.

Blue credited Hollywood-area Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti for setting up negotiations with developers and the city's redevelopment agency that led to Wednesday's breakthrough. But he still got in a dig at eminent domain.

Such government land seizure should be reserved for public projects, not commercial developments like the one that will rise up around his tiny shop, he suggested.

"You can't always count on a good city council president" being there to help the small property owner, Blue said.

Before Wednesday's storefront sidewalk ceremony, Blue painted over the anti-eminent domain sign that he placed in early March on the antique iron-framed billboard on the roof of his shop.

It had resembled a movie poster and read: "Reverse Robin Hood Pictures presents, 'Murder on Vine Street: Eminent Domain Kills Small Businesses.'"

It listed Garcetti, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the redevelopment agency and developers as its "stars."

"This story tells it all: Greed, Corruption and Gridlock," read the billboard's tag line.

"I took it down as a gesture of good will," Blue said.

The peaceful resolution of the dispute will allow work to begin on the Hollywood-and-Vine project. Jeff Cohen, senior vice president for acquisitions and development for one of the project's principals, Dallas-based Gatehouse Capital, said ground will be broken for it by year's end.

"I'm very appreciative of the outcome and humbled by the experience," Cohen said of the property dispute.

Redevelopment agency head Cecilia Estolano was equally relieved.

Preservation of the luggage shop building "allows us to maintain the best" of old Hollywood while bringing in the new, she said. "Those who stuck it out in Hollywood's worst days will get to benefit from Hollywood's best days."

Garcetti thanked Blue for taking his stand.

"You made me grow as an elected official and as a person," he said.

"Bob was standing up for his business. He will be able to keep his business here. They will build around him," Garcetti added.

Supporters of Blue showed up with cameras to capture what they called a "historic moment for Hollywood." Some said they hope the agreement is precedent-setting for Los Angeles redevelopment.

"I'm glad they did it, however they did it," said Robert Nudelman, director of preservation issues for Hollywood Heritage.

Other property owners and business operators in the project zone will have to move, however, including billboard figure and sometime actress Angelyne. Her small office is located in the development site.

Hair salon operator Vam Nguyen, who has rented space in Blue's building since 1996, said she hopes to move back into her space once the reconstruction is complete.

And Blue -- who has also retained ownership of the old billboard on his roof -- said he could have space for Angelyne, too.

"I might put her picture right up there," he said pointing up.

Blair Hawkins Endorses George Allen

Dear George Loper, (Letter to the Editor, )

It seems to be the year of smear. First, blogger Waldo Jaquith and Charlottesville Councilor Kevin Lynch smeared UVa state climatologist Patrick Michaels by suggesting Michaels' research on global warming is dishonest (biased) because Michaels is funded in small part by a Colorado electric company. In so doing, Jaquith and Lynch smeared all researchers who accept funds for research.

And now, UVa political professor Larry Sabato has spread rumors on national television (Sep. 24, MSNBC with Chris Matthews) that Senator George Allen has been heard to say the N-word in past years. I heard the replay on WINA's "Charlottesville Right Now" with Coy Barefoot last week. Two listeners called in to the show and condemned Sabato for his slander.

You know you're living in an Orwellian universe when the controversy involves a word protected by the First Amendment and also forbidden from utterance.

How do I know it was slander? Because Sabato has anonymous sources. In a courtroom, the defendant has the right to question his accusers. But so far, no crimes have been alleged. Free speech means no one can commit a crime against you for what you say. But there can be plenty of negative consequences. Sabato's gossip destroyed the last shred of his credibility and objectivity.

The drama has revealed a truism: You can be racist as long as you don't say anything racist. Democrats calling Republicans racist is the height of hypocrisy.

They said Allen was racist when he abolished parole in Virginia. The argument was, since more inmates are black, blacks will be incarcerated longer. Integrity and truth in sentencing meant nothing to the Democrats. They said Allen was racist when he reformed welfare, reforms that have strengthened the community.
Calling someone a macaca, in their minds, cancels out raising millions of dollars for blacks to attend college. The use of bad language cancels out Allen's agriculture bill that seeks to correct an injustice against black farmers.

Democrats' demagoguery against Allen allows them not to have a position on anything. What's their plan to reform welfare? Allen is racist. What's their plan to reform the judicial system? He's racist. Demagoguery is when you have the same answer to every question.

Immigration? Racist. Transportation? Racist.

What about the blacks on the receiving end of Allen's programs? Someone from the Charlottesville area called the Neal Boortz show (syndicated on WINA which aired in the 8 pm hour Sep. 30.) The caller said local black newspapers support Allen. That would have to be Agnes Cross-White's The Tribune (since 1954). I haven't seen The African-American Reflector on newsstands lately. I've documented racist policies and remarks in a Charlottesville controlled by Democrats.

So what? Am I now or have I ever been a member of the communist party? I mean-- have I ever used the N-word?

Of course. Have I ever called someone the N-word with the intent to hurt their feelings? Yes. People say all kinds of things in the heat of the moment. And I've been called a lot worse. You know ... the F-word. But I got over it.

Instead of fixating on reckless words, let's focus on deliberate deeds.

Allen on eminent domain August 8, 2005
"I enjoyed talking with folks about a number of different issues over lunch in Front Royal. The last question that I got was about the recent Supreme Court decision regarding "eminent domain" which is the government taking property not for a public project such as a road, school or elementary school. This is an issue that really fires me up and I know that it hits home with many of you all. Private property is one of the pillars of freedom in our society and the Supreme Court's recent ruling diminishes that right in our country. Local governments should not have the ability to act as commissars and take one's home away as if we're serfs or vassals just because they believe they can derive more revenue with another private owner. This case is part of the larger problem of activist judges on the federal bench. They've taken the Pledge of Allegiance out of our schools, they've attacked the Boy Scouts and now they're throwing away our 5th amendment rights with this decision on eminent domain.We need judges that apply the law not invent it. In the Senate, I'll continue working to make sure that we have judges that adhere to the Constitution not amend it by judicial decree!"
I did a yahoo search of Jim Webb's campaign website and I browsed the site. No results for eminent domain. I guess the Constitution is not high on his list of priorities.

Blair Hawkins (electronic mail, October 5, 2006)

Editor's Note: An index to coverage of George Allen on the Loper website may be found at

Comments? Questions? Write me at

"Debate crucial moment for Allen to shift campaign's focus"

By BOB LEWIS, AP Political Writer, Daily Press, October 7, 2006

"[...] My advice to Jim is to keep doing what you've been doing," he said, and not to worry about Allen trying to trip him up. "Because we can throw Allen off, too. That's an old consultant's trick, the oldest trick in the book." The debate is set for 8 p.m. in the studios of WCVE-TV, Richmond's Public Broadcasting Service outlet, with up to 10 stations signed up to carry it, said debate producer Richard Lesko. Questions for Allen and Webb during the hourlong debate will come from the debate moderator, CBS Sunday Evening News anchor Russ Mitchell, from a three-member panel and from each other. Lesko said each man should be able to ask the other at least two questions apiece. "

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

School board to remain at-large

Charlottesville, Va.-- Monday night, the 5-member at-large City Council voted unanimously to continue at-large elections for the 7-member school board. The first election of school board members occurred May 2 when Leah Puryear, Juandiego Wade and Ned Michie were elected. The next school board election will be November '07.

The 4 ward/3 at-large appointment system of representation morphed into solely at-large following the November 8 referendum to compel a switch to an elected school board. City Attorney Craig Brown argued then that the appointment system had been at-large all along even though the appointments were not.

Leading up to the referendum, all 5 Democratic city councilors opposed elected school boards and now oppose the system they supported. The Daily Progress reporter left just as this final item #7 came to the floor around 9:30pm.

Voter Registrar Sheri Iachetta asked Council to select one of three options.

(1) Continue at-large elections until after November '07.

(2) Create 4 resident districts where candidates would be elected at-large citywide. This would require a city charter amendment.

(3) Reinstate the 4 ward/3 at-large system except all board members would be directly elected. This would require a city charter amendment and approval from the U.S. Department of Justice of the drawing of election districts. Appointment districts are not regulated.

The first report was presented to Council by task force chairman Lloyd Snook on August 7. The 8-member commission was created February 21.

Regardless of the decision, Iachetta asked Council to realign the precinct boundaries because of projected growth and because of a proposed regulation that may require more voter machines. Currently, one machine is required for every 750 voters. The change would require one per 300 voters.

The Tonsler precinct would be most impacted, needing 7 machines. Iachetta said the current polling place at Tonsler Park on Cherry Avenue would not be big enough and no site within the precinct is large enough. So the new boundary should be drawn so as to enclose an appropriate polling site.

The present boundaries were drawn in 1963 following the annexation of Barracks Road Shopping Center. There are 4 populous and 4 sparsely populated precincts. Each ward was divided into a large and a small precinct. For example, in Ward 3 Tonsler has 1,400 voters while Jefferson Park Avenue has 3,600, said Iachetta. If no one is elected from a precinct, Justice Department approval is not needed to change the boundary.

Before voting, each councilor repeated already discredited arguments for the at-large position.

Dave Norris said the city is not large enough for wards. Yet the city is the same size as it was last year when school board members were appointed by ward. Norris wants every member to feel accountable to every student. So instead of taking a complaint to your representative, you'll have to complain to all 7 members and hope one of them doesn't think a different member is addressing your concern.

Kendra Hamilton wondered why there was so little interest with such a small group in attendance at this late hour. In her logic, if you have 2 hearings and 100 people attend the first and 5 attend the second, only 5 people are interested in this issue, not 105. She seems to have forgotten the public hearing in November following the referendum.

(CvilleWeekly reported on Hamilton's racial slur at the November 21 meeting. But the article has either been moved or removed from the news magazine's website. "I never thought that I, as a black woman, would be reduced to explaining to a bunch of white people that I know what I’m talking about." )

Hamilton did not attend the first report August 7. Similarly, Hamilton was disrespectful on January 8, 2005, when she mumbled "Let's get it out of the way" as Council Election Task Force Chairman Sean O'Brien approached the podium to discuss representation at the Council level.

Kevin Lynch said geographical diversity is not one of his top 3 or 4 diversity concerns. He would have no problem with Virginia having 4 senators and West Virginia none, as long as he lived in Virginia. Lynch said ward politics brings out the worst in both parties, implying that at-large politics is a pleasant endeavor. I think he meant to say-- politics brings out the worst. It's like an apple disparaging an orange because the orange is a fruit.

Julian Taliaferro has seen ward politics in action and it's not a pretty sight. The same logic would be to say, I had a bad experience with a Chevrolet, so don't buy a Chevy.

Mayor David Brown was concerned about low voter turnout, uncontested seats and unopposed elections. Apparently he doesn't pay attention to elections of the at-large Council of which he is a member. Again, apple calling the orange a fruit.

To his credit, Brown pointed out that last year under the appointment system, there were 3 board members who resided on the south side of town. Following the May election, there are now 2. In November '07, all school board members will likely be residents on the north side.

Task force member Rauzelle Smith spoke during the public comment, but not about the school board. He asked Council to consider a new ordinance, similar to the snow removal from sidewalks ordinance, to require property owners to rake and bag their leaves to prevent leaves from blowing into yards already raked and storm drains already cleared of debris.

"School board study: only wards can guarantee diversity", Aug 8, 2006

"Task force studies how to elect school board", May 19, 2006

Task force members:

Charles “Buddy” Weber, Republican
Loren Intolubbe, League of Women Voters
Leroy Hamlett, Former electoral board chair
Lloyd Snook, Chair, Democrat
Rauzelle Smith, Vice Chair, Former school board chair
Karen Waters, Quality Community Council
Tom Vandever, Former mayor
Ken Stroupe, Center for Politics