Monday, November 27, 2006

Luxury Gleason Condos: urban renewal still not over

"The Gleason Condos"

At the Charlottesville Planning Commission meeting tonight, it is expected that The Gleason condominium project will be approved for construction near the intersection of Garrett Street and Second Street SE.

There is no public hearing on this project because it is a by-right development. The plan calls for 71 luxury condominiums in a six-story L-shaped building wrapped around the old Gleasons building and adjacent to the new ACAC athletic facility. Buildings up to nine stories are allowed by-right in this part of downtown Charlottesville.

According to the staff report, the project is before the Planning Commission at the discretion of Jim Tolbert, the City's Director of Neighborhood Development Services, "based on the size and impact to the surrounding area."

Update 11/21/06: At the meeting on 11/14/06, the Charlottesville Planning Commission unanimously approved The Gleason condominium project.

Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Why are the Gleason Condos historic?

The luxury condominiums are one example of Charlottesville’s ongoing urban renewal program. On December 6, 1976, the Redevelopment and Housing Authority took deed to this site and the area north of Garrett Street including site of the Cold Steam Building torn down 1952—also known as Alexander Garrett’s grand home on what was in the 1820s Oak Hill farm. Garrett Street was developed in 1860 and the city’s first public school opened on this street in 1870.

The first image below is the first of 19 pages in Deed Book 380 Page 567 documenting the seizure of 14.5 acres for the purpose of resale. The final two images are the last assessment records for this land from 1976 to 1982.

Thirteen parcels were consolidated in 1976 “in the development of an urban renewal project.” The Gleason Corporation was paid $370,000 in three deeds recorded consecutively.

Atlantic Coast Athletic Club opened its mega-fitness center this month west of the Gleason building on land once owned by Gleason. Last year Fridays After Five weekly festivals were held on Garrett St. between Gleason and Standard Produce.

In 2004 Bill Ditmar erected condos a few blocks east and on the north side of Garrett on land seized in 1972. The Norcross condos face out on the site of an upscale brothel 1922-1949, at 303 5th St. SE, the legendary Marguiretta de Crescioli. This grand home, when demolished in 1972, tossed out thousands of dollars when the wrecker’s ball tore through the brick walls of this Jeffersonian-style house.

First of 19 pages, Deed Book 380 Page 567, From Gleason to Redevelopment Authority, 12/6/76, Charlottesville, Va., docu-photo 11/27/06
First of 19 pages, Deed Book 380 Page 567, From Gleason to Redevelopment Authority, 12/6/76, Charlottesville, Va., docu-photo 11/27/06

Assessments of Gleason property 1976-82
Assessments of Gleason property 1976-82, first of 2 pages, Charlottesville, Va., docuphoto 11/27/06

Assessments of Gleason property 1976-82
Assessments of Gleason property 1976-82, second of 2 pages, Charlottesville, Va., docuphoto 11/27/06

These are the types of documents, including photos and newspaper clips, that Charlottesville City Council refused to release to the public last Monday, Nov. 20, 2006.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Council refuses to release urban renewal archives: Jefferson School conflict of interest: Blighted House has until Feb 15

Charlottesville, Va.—Monday night the 5-member city council refused my plea to “investigate what happened to the archives of urban renewal.”

This, the Jefferson School update, and the blighted house come almost one year to the day (Nov 21) after the Council passed 4-1 a city charter amendment to expand eminent domain to include “affordable housing.” A state Senate committee stripped out this language.

During the Council response period following the public comment, only Kendra Hamilton responded to my 3-minute speech. She said I should talk to the Housing Authority’s new executive director since 2005. The concern may not have been passed on. Hamilton is the Council’s staunchest supporter of urban renewal.

At first glance, it all seems fine…unless you know the back-story. Acting executive director in early 2004 and assistant city manager, Rochelle Small-Toney was the person I contacted then, who is now in charge of the Jefferson School project. ( “Housing Authority archives out on loan for preservation”, Mar. 30, 2004,, reproduced below.)

When a new director was hired ( Paul Chedda Aug. ’04, Noah Schwartz July ’05), Small-Toney continued to claim control of the archives in June of this year when I spoke with her at a Council meeting.

At the end of tonight’s meeting, I spoke with her again about the archives. She wasn’t happy because I made her look bad in my speech at the beginning of the meeting. She watches the meeting in her office and comes to the chamber when it’s her turn to speak.

Small-Toney said archive preservation is taking so long because they are adding to the archives and writing new histories and stories. I said they were re-writing history. She said she would explain it to me in a letter. I said I would publish any correspondence. She said that’s fine.

As I was leaving City Hall and headed to the parking garage, I spoke with newly elected Councilor Dave Norris. I told him some of what I just told you. Norris is a former chairman of the Housing Authority’s board of directors and supported last year’s amendment to expand eminent domain.

Tonight Norris did not offer to make a phone call or use his connections to find out what’s going on. When I spoke with him, he claimed to be uninformed on the archive issue.

During the final agenda item, the blighted house at 610 Ridge Street, Norris asked George Jones point-blank: Why don’t you sell this house? Jones said his family doesn’t want to sell and they will fix up the house immediately. Cost estimates totaled $115,000 on a house assessed at $166,000.

Somebody wants this house. We don’t know who, but City Council does.

Mayor David Brown warned Jones that, if repairs are not made by the deadline, the Council will move to take the house as a consent agenda item without any new public hearing or discussion.

City attorney Craig Brown said the resolution before Council tonight does not allow eminent domain as long as the owner “voluntarily” negotiates to sell. The next resolution would be an invocation of eminent domain, which would be resolved in a judicial process.

The Council extended the deadline until February 15.

The big story behind Jefferson School is they must sell the land and buildings to a private entity in order to qualify for tax credits. Council has set aside $5 million for renovation including $1.2 million for restoration of exterior brick work.

The first Jefferson School opened in 1865 across Commerce Street. The 1926 building is the school’s third school house. The school closed in 2002 when the School Board voted to split the preschool among the six elementary schools.

Council was only two weeks from selling Jefferson School for redevelopment and a possible downtown civic arena when public outcry influenced Council to nix the plan.

“$1 million Jefferson School makeover: Council hears 3 B.A.R. appeals” Jun. 19, 2006

"An inconvenient truth": Report from Housing Authority: Update on archives, HUD request
July 17, 2006

“Council to rule on ordinance violation: 'Blighted' house to be seized” Nov. 2, 2006

Blair Hawkins public comment November 20, 2006

Streaming Video of the meeting, I’m the 4th speaker

I’d like to address the allegedly blighted house at 610 Ridge Street and ask City Council adopt a plan or resolution that does not involve the possibility of eminent domain and move this case to a court of law.

In 2001, the city passed a blight ordinance. Before then, blight was not a crime even though the city routinely seized blighted property for the purpose of selling it to someone who can afford to fix it up, which of course is not a public use.

Secondly, I’d like to ask the city attorney a civics question about our system of government.

We have three branches of government. The legislative branch (city council) passes laws and ordinances. The executive branch (all city employees including police) enforces the laws. And the judicial branch interprets the law.

Is it true, in our system of government, only courts can seize and sell property?

They do it all the time.
- when you’re found guilty of a crime
- foreclosures—when you can’t pay the mortgage
- judgments and breaches of contract—when you don’t comply with a legally binding contract

Can the legislature authorize the executive branch to seize and sell property? Or is that the exclusive role of the courts?

Lastly, there are two lines of argument against urban renewal using eminent domain:

(1) The first is that the unintended negative consequences outweigh any promised benefit. This argument has been made many times in this chamber during the last four decades. And most recently The Tribune newspaper alluded to it the week before election.

(2) The second argument is Constitutional—that seizing and selling property without due process is the definition of theft.

Please ask Rochelle Small-Toney, who will speak later about Jefferson School, which of these is the reason she still hasn’t released the Housing Authority archives since my first request on March 25, 2004.

How can she be trusted to preserve Jefferson School if she cannot be trusted to preserve and protect our history and heritage recorded in the archives.

I like Rochelle. She’s not a bad person. Maybe she’ll address this.

But is there any member of City Council who will investigate what happened to the archives of urban renewal?

Thank you for your consideration.

"Housing Authority archives out on loan for preservation"
She said she didn't know where the archives were, but they're not here.

On Thursday afternoon shortly before 4 p.m. March 25, 2004, I paid a visit to the office of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority in the basement of City Hall. My purpose was to photograph a picture of South Downtown before urban renewal. I was thinking they must have photographed this area as well as Vinegar Hill. ( Aerial photo of Vinegar Hill 1960 )

[The secretary, Jamie Robinette, said that the archives were out on loan to be digitized, preserved, and published on the internet. She said she didn't remember seeing any photos of South Downtown when she last looked through the archives. She also said that documents have disappeared from the archives over the years, and that was the reason they were out on loan now, to be preserved. She asked me if I was only interested in the pictures. I said the text documents were more important.

Acting CRHA director since last April and assistant city manager, Rochell Small-Toney said the office has received more requests recently to view the archives, principally from UVa students. She also said they have had a problem with shrinking archives. I asked if any of the archives would be available or online by May 4. She said the archives would be closed to the public longer than that.

So I left. But then I started to wonder: who has the archives? I would feel better knowing they're at Alderman Library Special Collections rather than on some student's coffee table. So I called the secretary. She said she didn't know where the archives were, but they're not here. She referred me to the director's voice mail. Ms. Small-Toney called me back and left a message saying that the archives belong to the CRHA, not to city hall, and she reassured me that the archives are "in the custody of the Housing Authority."]*

This was my first visit to the office of the Housing Authority. They may want to consider adopting a system of safeguarding documents similar to the one used by the City Assessor's Office. The assessor's archives include information such as annual assessments in pencil, addresses, names of property owners, deed references for tracing the history of a property. Apparently someone borrowed the Vinegar Hill assessment records and never returned them. The assessment records of South Downtown is several thick folders.

Here's how the assessor safeguards documents: You sit at a table across from the secretary. You are under direct supervision at all times. Furthermore, you sit sideways to the secretary so she can clearly see if you alter or steal any document. No one can borrow the archives to take elsewhere.

"Knowledge is power. And withholding knowledge is an abuse of power." ("Public policy and honesty," Mar 28 2004, The Daily Progress)

*[These three paragraphs accidentally left out when I copied from my archives and pasted with this article. Corrected Nov 24.]


Secretary responds

by Blair Thursday, May 6 2004, 5:45pm
Subject: CRHA Archives
Date: May 4, 2004 5:57 AM

Hi, Blair, I just read your article about the archives.

Just speaking for myself, I think in all fairness one might mention that many of these photos have suffered damaged from handling and/or are fragile--they are irreplaceable and have to be preserved...



add your comments

public correspondence

by Blair Friday, May 7 2004, 6:59pm
To: 'Heal Cville'
Subject: RE: CRHA Archives
Date: May 7, 2004 6:21 AM

Sorry, Blair, but that info was never given to me. All I know is that they are in the care of our very capable and very pro-preservation interim executive director.


-----Original Message-----
Subject: Re: CRHA Archives


Thanks for the correspondence. But where are the archives? Who is safeguarding these fragile documents?
I posted your response as a comment on the internet story.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

1875 church to move to make airport approach safer

Made up of about 35 active members, the church has negotiated a deal with the Airport Authority for $460,000 and 2 acres to allow for the construction of a new building. The grant money, however, would leave the church with an estimated $250,000 shortfall for the construction.

Group fights to save church
By Jeremy Borden, , November 16, 2006

Jeff Werner just wanted to visit the bathroom.

Walking briskly out of an Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting earlier this month, Werner stumbled into a conversation that, for him, emphasized one of life’s pithy truths: There is such a thing as serendipity.

Blocking Werner’s path to the men’s room was Shirley Chapman, the pastor of a small, historically black church in Earlysville called Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. She not only explained her church’s predicament - that the church sits in an airport safety zone and faces the possibility of demolition - but that a deal the church has negotiated with the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport Authority would leave the church with a worrisome debt.

Werner, a land use officer for the Piedmont Environment Council whose job involves keeping an eye on historic preservation issues, didn’t know what to say about contracts and loans. But when he heard that the church was built in 1875, "my jaw dropped," he said.

In the days that followed, Werner began to rally a group to save the church. His hunch that the Federal Aviation Administration had not followed the appropriate steps when dealing with a historic property proved right. The goal now, he said, is to have the church officially designated as a historic site, which would make saving it easier.

Werner plans to submit interviews, photos and other historic documentation to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The FAA and the Airport Authority have put the acquisition of the church on hold to see what the department will say.

Werner dealt with a similar situation from 2001 through last year when the Federal Communications Commission wanted a tower put on Peter’s Mountain in northeastern Albemarle County. The site lies in a historic district, and Werner criticized the county’s handling of the situation. The tower was eventually approved and built.

"Learning what I learned during Peter’s Mountain … I realized I couldn’t just stay silent," he said.

The state historic resources department reviewed the church in 1990. It concluded the church shouldn’t have a historic designation because it didn’t score well in categories such as historic materials and fabric; siding, for example, had been replaced.

Raising profile

It isn’t clear what a historic designation might mean for the old building - federal law does not require that the building be preserved - but Werner said elevating the church’s importance would give it a better chance.

Werner last week assembled a group of concerned residents, most of whom have known about the situation but haven’t been sure what to do: Ben Ford, a local archaeologist and a member of Preservation Piedmont, a historical advocacy group that has previously worked to document and preserve the church; Gina Haney, Preservation Piedmont’s president; Sally H. Thomas, of the county Board of Supervisors; and Anita Poletti-Anderson, who teaches architectural history in the University of Virginia’s continuing education program.

The Airport Authority, too, has written in previous letters that it is interested in seeing the church preserved. "This is a wonderful opportunity for this community," Werner said.

Werner wants his group to work with church members, who have been somewhat reticent on the issue. Parishioners have said they would like the building to continue to stand as a testament to what used to be a vibrant black community, but they are also excited about the prospect of a new church.

Made up of about 35 active members, the church has negotiated a deal with the Airport Authority for $460,000 and 2 acres to allow for the construction of a new building. The grant money, however, would leave the church with an estimated $250,000 shortfall for the construction, partly because the new site would need extensive work. The congregation has never faced debt before, said Chapman, the church’s pastor, but has agreed to the deal because members want a larger facility.

She said she’s thrilled the community wants to help save the church and was also surprised that the most vocal activists are white.

"I’ve been getting more calls from the white community than I have from the black community," Chapman said. "Even the white ministers were coming out more than black ministers. A lot of the black community is waking up now."

‘You can change the outcome’

Werner said he would fight just as hard for any church of the period. He has a fascination with the era because his great-great-great-grandfather served in the Pennsylvania infantry during the Civil War.

He said many people assume that the postbellum period is protected. They take for granted that a federal agency couldn’t simply destroy a storied old church that was once the center of a thriving black community.

"People say, ‘[They] can’t tear that down,’" he said. "Well, they can. But you can change the outcome."

For historic Baptist church, change is on the horizon
Building in shadow of airport must be moved or destroyed

By Jeremy Borden, Daily Progress staff writer , October 19, 2006

Irene Allen remembers days as a child when hundreds would gather at the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Earlysville.

Those days are long gone, the 72-year-old said, and the church that she has attended all her life has an uncertain future as the building could be destroyed because of its proximity to the airport.

"It hurts me to see the church go," Allen said. "But nothing can’t be done now."
Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, founded in 1875, is a small, historic black church down Earlysville Road near the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport. The building is within the Federal Aviation Administration’s safety zone and the county has told members for years that the day would come when they would no longer be able to worship there. The airport is also expanding, which will affect 10 property owners. The airport has reached agreements with eight of the owners, said Executive Director Bryan Elliott.

The FAA regulation isn’t a new one, but land acquisition and the details of compliance have taken a long time for it to be enforced, said airport officials. The airport authority has been working with the church since 1996, Elliott said.

"If an aircraft were to have an accident, this zone would be clear of all buildings, gatherings of people and in doing so you minimize potential damage," Elliott said.

"Our agreement with the church leaves it completely in their hands whether they want to relocate their church," he said. "They are opting to build a new building." The airport is also donating two acres for the new church and giving them a negotiated $460,000.

While the church will likely stay put for at least a year, the day when it will either get bulldozed or moved is approaching. Once the deal with the airport is finalized, the church could have about a year to move out.

Though the new church site is close to the current one, it shouldn’t be affected by future airport expansions. Church leaders say estimates for the new building have come in at more than $700,000, and they are concerned about the debt they’ll have to incur in taking out a large loan.

‘No fight’

Shirley Chapman, the church’s pastor, says they won’t fight to stay. The dangers are clear, church members say - above the church’s original lantern, crafted in 1875, a crack runs along the ceiling, caused when a plane skirted too close to the roof.

Ralph Carr, a deacon at the church, also said it was too financially risky to fight it.

"The money we have now is not enough money to build the church," Carr said.

He said the threat of eminent domain made church members back off - if the property had been condemned, they wouldn’t have been able to negotiate the price, and they might have received even less.

A.C. Shelton, the church’s contractor, said he’s trying to build the new place as inexpensively as possible. He originally tried to negotiate with the airport authority to get more than $800,000. The church got about half that.

"They didn’t oblige us," Shelton said. He said site development would cost at least $300,000 of the estimated total, something church members were hoping the airport could pay for. Official site estimates haven’t been done, however, because the deal hasn’t been approved. The county Board of Supervisors may approve the rezoning on Nov. 1, something that has to happen before the deal can move forward.

"They were happy, they were comfortable," Shelton said of church members. "They had no financial burdens at all. They didn’t have any debt, they didn’t want any debt. … Why should they have to assume any financial burden?"

The church, however, is still looking for a way to preserve its memories. Allen’s great-grandfather, a former slave, helped build the place by hand when an old schoolhouse near the church became too small. Generations have come and gone, and some former members are buried behind the church.

County Executive Bob Tucker, who is on the airport authority’s board, said once the authority owns the building, it will have to be moved or bulldozed.

"We hope that doesn’t happen," he said, adding that there is at least one property owner in the area interested in moving the church.

Chapman said she hopes the community will step in and help, but there is little the church can do.

"God is leading [us] in the direction He wants to go."

There are also advantages to a new church building, she said. The church has not been able to expand, but the new church could offer more services and have more space than the one-room building they now have.

Every time they applied for a permit to expand the current church, the county said their land would eventually be bought and so no new construction was allowed, Chapman said.

Hanging on to memories

The church was once thriving and raucous for its twice-monthly Sunday services, having more than 100 members when Allen was a child. The church now has around 35 active members, and though it offers services every week, members have died out and few new people have joined. The active members are all family of those who used to attend the church.

That’s why they want the building preserved. Carr said the church can’t pay for the building to be moved. They hope the community can step in and help.

"Generations of families have been at this church," Carr said. "A lot of members don’t want to leave."

The church was there in the 1950s when the airport was built, said James Thomas, a long-time church member.

Given that, he suggested, it would seem "the airport would be in our way."

Yet, many church members seem to already be moving on. Chapman and Carr said the church’s biggest concern is debt.

And Thomas said that his anger has subsided.

"If we can’t, we can’t," he said of keeping the church.

About 10 members, including Chapman, attended last week’s county Planning Commission meeting when rezoning of the land was recommended and approved.

All of the members entered quietly, waited for the commission’s vote and then left. There was no protest, except by Planning Commission members who lamented the loss of something with so much history.

Commissioner John Cannon and others said they would like to see something done to preserve the building.

The church is "being displaced," he noted, "seemingly by progress."

Contact Jeremy Borden at (434) 978-7263 or

Subscribe to the Newspaper

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Eminent Domain on Election Day

9 Constitutional amendments pass, 2 fail. Tuesday’s election, combined with earlier reforms, raises to 35 the number of states that have limited eminent domain abuse. [Virginia is not one of them.]
"2006 Election Wrap Up: Voters Overwhelmingly Passed Eminent Domain Reform"

November 8, 2006

Arlington, Va. - Amid many close races in yesterday’s mid-term elections, there was one issue an overwhelming majority of voters agreed on: the need to limit government’s power of eminent domain following last year’s despised U.S. Supreme Court Kelo ruling.

Eminent domain ballot measures, restricting governments from taking private property and giving it private entities, passed by wide margins nationwide. In the eight states with ballot measures limiting eminent domain by addressing “public use,” all eight passed overwhelmingly. Yesterday’s election, combined with earlier reforms passed by the states, raises to 35 the number of states that have limited eminent domain abuse.

Voters Pass All Six Constitutional Amendments Referred by Legislatures

The strongest protection a state can offer property owners is to put it in the constitution, and legislators referred a number of amendments to their constituents.

· With more than 85% approval, South Carolina’s constitution now specifically prohibits municipalities from condemning private property for “the purpose or benefit of economic development, unless the condemnation is for public use.” Also, an individual property must now be a danger to public health and safety for it to be designated as “blighted,” closing a loophole that enabled local governments to use eminent domain for private use under the State’s previously broad blight definition.

· In Florida, which had been one of the worst abusers of eminent domain, government can no longer take property for so-called “blight” removal and the newly passed statutes prohibit localities from transferring land from one owner to another through the use of eminent domain for 10 years-effectively eliminating condemnations for private commercial development. After yesterday, with nearly 70% approval of the constitutional amendment, each house of the Legislature must now pass exemptions by a 3/5 vote.

· In Georgia, nearly 85% of the electorate voted in favor of a constitutional amendment requiring a vote by elected officials any time eminent domain will be used. Coupled with statutory reform, Georgia property owners are now protected from eminent domain abuse.

· More than 80% of Michigan voters approved a proposed constitutional amendment that prohibits “the taking of private property for transfer to a private entity for the purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenues” and requires government to prove its authority to take a piece of property for blight removal by clear and convincing evidence.

· New Hampshire’s legislature passed both statutory reform as well as a constitutional amendment, which was supported by more than 85% of New Hampshire voters.

· Louisiana was the first post-Kelo constitutional amendment to restrict eminent domain abuse, passing in September’s primary election. The amendment prohibits local governments from condemning private property merely to generate taxes or jobs and ensures that the State’s blight laws can only be used for the removal of a genuine threat to public health and safety on a specific piece of property.

Voters Passed Citizen Initiatives That Solely Limit Eminent Domain

· Nevada’s constitutional amendment, which was presented to voters through a citizen initiative and sharply limited eminent domain for private development, was affirmed by over 60% of voters and will reappear on the 2008 ballot for final approval.

· Oregon voters overwhelmingly passed, with over 65% approval, a citizen initiative that provides stronger property rights protections in Oregon’s statutes.

“Citizens around the nation agree that property rights must be protected in the wake of the Kelo decision,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, which represented the homeowners in Kelo before the U.S. Supreme Court. “The public is right to be outraged and fearful, with such a fundamental right left to the whim of government and the influence of wealthy developers. The state response has been historic, but Congress needs to act and offer federal protection as well.”

Mixed Results for Efforts Combining Eminent Domain and Regulatory Takings

· More than 65% of Arizona voters passed an initiative that restricted the definitions of “public use” and “blight” in spite of the controversial regulatory takings language included in the measure.

· Without a legislative session this year, North Dakota passed a constitutional amendment through a citizen initiative that prohibits private use of property taken though eminent domain and requires compensation for regulatory takings. The measure passed with over 65% approval.

· Measures that sought to limit regulatory takings and eminent domain in California and Idaho failed. Those initiatives did little to stop the type of eminent domain abuse exemplified in Kelo. (In Washington, a measure dealing exclusively with regulatory takings failed.)

“Where the public could vote on pure eminent domain reform, they marched to the polls and demanded to be heard,” said Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, who argued the Kelo case for the Institute. “An overwhelming majority of the public recognize how a narrow majority of the Supreme Court got it wrong.”

“Yesterday’s election results highlight the nation’s complete rejection of eminent domain for private development,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner. “That is why it is so surprising that the U.S. Senate leadership has completely failed to address the issue. I hope the Senators, especially Senator Frist, will use the few remaining days of this Congress to finish the work the House started last year and pass reform that will protect the entire nation.”

Mellor said, “The popular backlash against Kelo remained strong. The momentum for eminent domain reform continues - fueled by the outrage of property owners and a nation’s concern over this onslaught on fundamental rights. Yesterday’s eminent domain ballot measure successes are property rights victories. Other states need to continue the push and do exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court refused to do: protect homeowners from this abuse of government power.”

Christina Walsh
Assistant Castle Coalition Coordinator
Institute for Justice
901 N. Glebe Road, Suite 900 Arlington, VA 22203
(703) 682-9320

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Council to rule on ordinance violation: 'Blighted' house to be seized

610 Ridge Street

'Blighted' house to be seized: eminent domain by Council vote or due process by Court ruling? October 15, 2006

Charlottesville City Council Agenda for Nov 6, 2006


TO: City Council
FROM: Lisa Kelley, Deputy City Attorney
DATE: October 31, 2006
RE: Spot Blight Determination and Remedy

Subject Property: 610 Ridge Street

On October 10, 2006, the Planning Commission voted to approve the findings and recommendations of the Director of Neighborhood Development Services, that the abovereferenced Subject Property constitutes a blighted property and setting forth a proposed plan for remedying the blight. The Director’s Report of October 10, 2006 to the Commission is attached.

Now that you have received the findings and recommendations from the Planning Commission, your options under §5-196 of the City’s Spot Blight ordinance are as follows: you may affirm, modify or reject those findings and recommendations.

As you will note from the Director’s [and Commission’s] findings and recommendations, due to the particular history associated with the Subject Property, the only viable plan that can be anticipated to remedy the blight, once and for all, is for the City to acquire the property. If it is your decision to affirm the Director’s and Commission’s findings and recommendations, I attach a proposed resolution for your consideration and use.

Since the Planning Commission meeting, there has been some contact between the Property Owner and her brother, and the City’s Building Maintenance Official (Jerry Tomlin). However, as of the date of this Memo our office has not received word that the Owner has committed both financially and through approval of a specific written plan of correction to remove the blight by a date certain. Therefore it is our suggestion that Council consider moving forward with the plan of acquisition recommended by the Director and the Planning Commission, with the proviso that if the Owner does actually remedy the blight prior to acquisition by the City, the acquisition need not proceed in the absence of any continuing blight.


WHEREAS, pursuant to §5-193 of the City Code, the Director of Neighborhood Development Services (“Director”) made a preliminary determination that the property located at 610 Ridge Street (City Tax Map 29, Parcel 263) (“Subject Property”) is a blighted property, and provided written notice thereof to the owner of the Property, as required by §5-193; and

WHEREAS, Owner of the Property failed to respond to the Director’s notice within 30 days, to provide a suitable plan to cure the blight; and

WHEREAS, at the Director’s request the Planning Commission conducted a public hearing on October 10, 2006 and moved to approve the Director’s findings and recommendations, as set forth in a Report of the Director dated October 10, 2006, and the Planning Commission’s decision has been reported to City Council as required by §5-195 of the City Code; and

WHEREAS, the Director and Planning Commission recommend that the City take action to acquire the Subject Property, as such acquisition is at this time the only means of ensuring that the blight will be expeditiously abated;

NOW THEREFORE, be it resolved:

THAT this Council affirms and accepts the findings and recommendations of the Director and Planning Commission; and

THAT the Director, on behalf of City Council, is hereby directed to commence negotiations with the Owner of the Subject Property for the proposed acquisition of the Subject Property, and if, following a bona fide effort to purchase the Subject Property from the Owner, the City cannot reach and agreement with the Owner on the compensation to be paid or other terms of purchase or settlement, or if no agreement can be reached for other reasons set forth within Virginia Code §15.2-1903(A), then this Council hereby authorizes the City Attorney file a petition for condemnation of the Subject Property. The public purpose to be served by any such condemnation and acquisition is the abatement of a blight within the City, as authorized by Virginia Code §36-49.1:1(A).



October 10, 2006
Subject Property: 610 Ridge Street
Tax Map: 29-263
Zoning: Residential, Historic Overlay District (Ridge Street)
Owner: Juanita L. Jones and Ruth L. Jones (together, “owner”)
10902 Oakwood Street, Silver Springs, MD 20901
Local Agent: None.


On July 19, 2006, I rendered a preliminary determination that the above-referenced property is a “blighted property,” as that term is used within City Code §5-191 et seq. Upon making that determination, I notified the owner of the property. A copy of my preliminary determination letter is attached.

At this time, pursuant to § 5-193 of the City Code, I request that the planning commission to conduct a public hearing and make findings and recommendations concerning the repair or other disposition of this property. Following a public hearing, the planning commission will be required to make specific findings and a recommendation to Council. The remaining portion of this report sets forth my analysis, and pertinent factual information, as to the matters on which the Commission is required to make findings.


Virginia’s Housing Code provides a procedure for abatement of properties that constitute spot blight. The enabling legislation is found in Virginia Code §36-49.1:1 (spot blight abatement authorized; procedure). In 2001 the City Council enacted an ordinance incorporating the spot blight procedures into our local code, set forth within §§5-191 through 5-197 of the City Code.

Proposed Plan

For the reasons analyzed below, it is my opinion that any further attempt to elicit the property owner’s cooperation and follow-through with a plan for the repair and rehabilitation of this property would be futile. At this time, I believe that the only course of action that will achieve the repair of this property for beneficial residential use will be for the City to acquire the property as authorized by Virginia Code §36-49.1:1(A). Therefore, my recommendation is that the Planning Commission should confirm my finding that this is a blighted property, and should recommend to City Council that it take all steps necessary to acquire the property from the owner and repair it.

Analysis—Findings Required of the Planning Commission

(1)Is this a Blighted Property? The City Code, § 5-192 et seq. defines a blighted property
as follows:

“any property with buildings or improvements which, by reason of dilapidation, overcrowding, lack of ventilation, light and sanitary facilities, deleterious land use, or any combination of these or other factors, are detrimental to the safety, health, or welfare of the

For more than a decade, this property has remained vacant. The house currently has no working facilities for heat or water. The exterior of the house has deteriorated, and there is evidence that the owner’s long-term neglect is also having an impact on the interior. Frequently, City Housing Inspectors find it necessary to board the first-floor windows and doors in an attempt to secure the house from public entry. Other than City personnel, no person(s) regularly remove trash and debris, or mow weeds and grass, on the property. In this condition, the property is attractive to trespassers is having an adverse impact on surrounding properties within the Ridge Street Architectural Design Control District. In my opinion, these circumstances cause the property to fit within the definition of “blighted property.”

(2)Has the Owner, after reasonable notice, failed to cure the blight, or to present a reasonable plan to do so?

Since the date on which my preliminary determination was issued, the owner has failed to cure the blight or to present a reasonable plan to do so. My
determination was mailed, as required by law, to the owner at her address specified in the City’s real estate records, which is also the last known address available to us.

Since at least 1989 the City’s Housing inspectors have cited the property owner(s) with approximately fifty (50) violations of City or state property maintenance codes. The City routinely mows the grass, cuts and removes weeds, shrubbery and damaged trees, removes accumulations of garbage, rubbish, and shopping carts, and paints and repairs exterior wood surfaces, and boards first-floor windows and doors to secure the house against public entry.

With each violation, the City has provided the property owner with notice of the violation, as required by law, and the property owner has either ignored or failed to respond to the notice.

As allowed by law, the City then performs the necessary work and charges the cost back to the property owner as a lien on the real property. The property owner regularly pays off the accumulated lien(s). Our Property Maintenance Official, Jerry Tomlin, has unsuccessfully attempted on numerous occasions to communicate with the owner, or someone authorized to act on her behalf. The owner has a brother who lives in Crozet who, for at least a time, undertook a level of responsibility for the property. However, subsequent to 1995, when the City initiated a building code enforcement action in Circuit Court, the brother has not been provided with the legal authority or financial ability to make the necessary repairs. He has no
ownership interest in the property.

In 1998 the property owner entered into an agreement with the City, allowing the City’s Building Official to remove a building located at 818 Page Street.1 This property, which was uninhabited at the time, had been allowed to deteriorate to the point of presenting a danger to the public. The owner authorized a demolition of the structure by the City, at a total cost of $2,600.00, and granted the City a lien in that amount recoverable upon the sale of the property. That property remains in the same ownership, and is currently a vacant lot with an assessed value of approximately $166,000.

The property owner also owns the property located at 524 Ridge Street.2 The house located on that property is also vacant, and is evidencing some deterioration. The owner’s brother was recently observed performing some work on the roof of that property, but he indicated that the work had not been requested or paid for by the owner. This house may have been this family’s homeplace, and may be why the owner’s brother was willing to undertake some repairs.

As a result of the foregoing history, it was not unexpected that the property owner would fail to respond to my July 19, 2006 notice of determination of blight, and fail to submit a plan for rehabilitating the property. The owner is elderly; however, our staff is without information as to her financial resources. All that we can say is that, when the City has placed liens against the property for work performed to abate housing code violations, those amounts are routinely paid off along with the real estate taxes.

(3)Is this property currently occupied for residential purposes? What is/are the other current land uses?

The property is not currently occupied by any persons for residential purposes. It is vacant.

(4)Has this property been condemned for human habitation? What is the status of
any outstanding Building Code Violations?

On several occasions, our Building Maintenance Official and inspectors have acted under the building code to board the property against public entry. This process involves posting a notice that “THIS STRUCTURE IS UNFIT FOR HABITATION AND ITS USE OR OCCUPANCY HAS BEEN PROHIBITED BY THE CODE OFFICIAL” According to the Building Maintenance Official, the property has been without proper heat or water facilities since 1993 and therefore cannot be lawfully inhabited. The City’s Building Code Official has issued about fifty (50) notices of property maintenance code violations to this property since 1989.

I would estimate the cost of returning this property to a well-maintained condition suitable for human habitation to be approximately $27, 000.00. To repair the plumbing, $ 3,000.00 heating system $9,000.00 and electrical service $ 3,000.00 and to repair roof $ 6,000.00, $ 6,000.00 roofline paint and guttering, needed to make habitable.

1 The Assessor’s records indicate that the property at 818 Page Street is owned by “ Juanita L. Jones and Ruth L. Jones.”
2 The Assessor’s records indicate that the property at 524 Ridge Street is owned by “ Juanita L. Jones, et al .”

All real estate taxes, and other liens for work performed by the City on this property, have been paid, as of 9/20/2006, except $ 145.00 Bulk Collection.

(5)Is the Director’s Plan reasonable, and is it in accordance with the requirements of the City’s comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance, and other applicable City ordinances or regulations?

In my opinion, the proposal for the City to acquire the property is the minimum necessary course of action to permanently remedy the conditions that are the basis of my blight determination.

a. The comprehensive plan contains the following language, relevant to the desired use(s) and protection of this property: Ridge Street is an urban residential neighborhood with a small mix of detached dwelling and cottages and suburban style single-family detached dwelling. It remains an important residential area in the city’ African-American community. Noted in the Neighborhood Plan,

b. If acquisition of the property is recommended as the desired course of action to remedy this blighted property, subsequent repair and disposition of the property would be conducted in accordance with applicable City ordinances, including consultation with the BAR regarding any necessary alterations, and consistent with the purposes set forth within Title 36 (Housing) of the Virginia Code.

The City Attorney’s office has been given an opportunity to review my proposal in advance of this report and agrees that

(i) the property is a blighted property, and
(ii) acquisition of the property by the City appears to be the only option that will be likely to remedy the blight.

(6)Is this property listed on the National Register, or locally designated a protected property?

This property is a contributing structure in a National Register Historic District.

The property is situated within the Ridge Street Architectural Design Control District, and it is a contributing property under §34-272(3) of the City’s zoning ordinance.

610 Ridge Street was building 1894 by John Gleason and represents an example of a late-19 C. vernacular house with the irregular form and gabled projecting bays associated with Queen Anne style. It is akin in form and scale to other house of that period in the Ridge Street district and stands in a prominent location near the intersection of Ridge Street, Fifth Street, Cherry Avenue, and Elliot Avenue.

Final Process

Following the public hearing, the commission is required to report its findings and recommendations concerning the repair or other disposition of the blighted property to the city council. Upon receipt of findings and recommendations from the planning commission, the city council may affirm, modify or reject the planning commission's findings and recommendations.

If the repair or other disposition of the property is approved, the city may carry out the approved plan in accordance with the approved plan and applicable law.

Rivanna uncomfortable using Buck Mountain land for Ragged Mountain plan

Monticello High School, Charlottesville, Va.-- At every water forum I have attended, the issue of Buck Mountain Reservoir has come up.

Following the area's worst drought in 1977, the 5-year-old Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority acquired land in 1983 for use as water storage. A permit could not be obtained because the endangered James River Spiny Mussel was found.

In response to my qestion as to whether the agency will acquire any new land before this project is fully approved, executive director Tom Frederick said they have negotiated with property owners with contingencies such as what if the dam is never built.

If, instead of eminent domain, the Buck Mountain property owners had negotiated a contract, Rivanna could have locked in a fixed price and the owners could have staid and paid taxes and live within a permanent conservation district designated for a future reservoir.

When the reservoir actually comes, the authority would exercise its option. Frederick said the agency is negotiating with impacted property owners, such as the Stockyard in Hogwaller, for mutually beneficial options to buy.

In response to the second part of my question, Frederick said the agency will not decide what to do with Buck Mountain land leftover after the mitigation easements. I suggested the surplus land be returned to the private sector and free market so it can start paying taxes again.

The Free Enterprise Forum wanted the land to remain in a permanent conservation status. City Councilor Kevin Lynch wanted the agency to keep the land in case of severe drought.

Another citizen said rumors were rampant that the negotiations would be blanket-- one size fits all such as a regulation. Frederick reassured the audience that Rivanna recoginizes each case is unique and requires individual consideration.

In the first half of his presentation, Frederick declared that Rivanna already owns Buck Mountan land. On the third declaration, a fellow seated near me chuckled. To drive the point home, one of the PowerPoint slides quoted Ridge Schuyler of the Nature Conservancy on the fact of government ownership of affected properties. Later during the public input section, Schuyler said he is often quoted but not as often correct in his statements. That slide was omitted from the handout which was the slide show printed out.

Frederick admitted, as director, he inherited the agency's historical baggage. The benefit of hindsight is you can choose to avoid past mistakes.

In the exit survey, I gave the forum high marks on everything. And I wrote "Tom Frederick needs a raise." He has certainly earned one.

Council approves Ragged Mountain option: Water for another 50 years June 6, 2006. Includes maps of pipeline connecting Rivanna to Ragged, Rivanna presentation to City Council February 9, 2005, and other background.

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority where you can access the PowerPoint slide show and more.

The 13-page contract for Rivanna to acquire 15 acres on Franklin Street at Moore's Creek for wetland mitigation. Ragged Mountain is contained in the Moore's Creek watershed.

Proposed Buck Mountain Reservoir and outline of RWSA-owned land

Third Ragged Mountain Dam, first dam in 1885

Wetland mitigation at Franklin and Moore's Creek, stockyard at left

Monticello High School, at podium Mike Gaffney, chairman RWSA board