610 Ridge Street'Blighted' house to be seized: eminent domain by Council vote or due process by Court ruling?
October 15, 2006Charlottesville City Council Agenda for Nov 6, 2006
OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY
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.
RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING ACQUISITION OF BLIGHTED PROPERTY LOCATED AT 610 RIDGE STREET
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).
REPORT OF THE DIRECTOR OF NEIGHBORHOOD DEVELOPMENT SERVICES TO THE PLANNING COMMISSION:
REPAIR OR DISPOSITION OF BLIGHTED PROPERTY (CITY CODE 5-194)
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.
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
“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.
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.