Friday, December 15, 2006

Levy Avenue for sale: Eminent domain in your face

In January they wanted 30 units, single family houses and townhouses. Now it's 7 houses and a dozen condos. In 2003 they wanted Granny-flat studio apartments above store fronts and a backyard mini-park.

Rents for $1 a year. (Photo August 16, 2002)

The city of Charlottesville and its Housing Authority have been trying to sell the parking lot on Levy Avenue for decades. Nobody knows when the parcel was acquired.

Today’s Daily Progress reports: “The housing authority has owned the land for decades and has wanted to build on it for years.”

At the regular meeting of the Redevelopment Committee of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority on January 10, Howard Evergreen “explained that CRHA has owned, free and clear, nearly one acre on Levy for many years” according to the minutes of the meeting.

Even the city’s online assessment records are blank in the “Transfer” folder that contains sales dates and deed numbers. The address is 405 Levy Avenue, 0.846 acre, assessed at $449,300. Parcel ID 580115000. Lots 2-11 Block 4 Belmont. Use Code “vacant commercial.” Non-tax/tax-exempt. The owner is listed as Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, P.O. Box 1405, Charlottesville, Va. 22902.

Search Charlottesville’s online assessment records.

This property was designated in an urban renewal zone when a 1967 referendum approved the clearance and redevelopment. A 1970 HUD grant of $3 million initially funded the project. I’ve written in the past that this part of Levy was demolished in 1972. But that’s actually the year they demolished the nice houses, the ones contested and saved for last. The true blight was the first to go.

When I photograph the urban renewal archives of the Housing Authority next month, Levy Avenue will be a top priority. Currently, the Housing Authority rents the parking lot to the city as an employee parking lot for one dollar a year.

More Resources

"City has plan for Levy site: Mixed-income idea novel for housing," Jun 19 2003, The Daily Progress. The article doesn’t give the date of purchase or indicate the urban renewal status of the property.

"Levy Avenue Design Workshop," Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association Newsletter, Summer 2003.

"This spring, neighborhood residents and city leaders, including Mayor Maurice Cox, gathered for a design workshop sponsored by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to explore options for development of the Housing Authority property at 405 Levy Avenue, next to Walker's Auto Repair... On the ground level at the Avon Street and 6th Street corners of the property, participants recommended higher density buildings, housing apartments above, and uses like cafe, video store, laundromat for the spaces at sidewalk level. At the center of the block, participants recommended construction of rowhouses, like those in Richmond's Fan District, with a shared private park/garden behind, and garages with 'Granny-flat'studio apartments."

1967 map of Garrett Street urban renewal zone showing Levy sticking out on east side of zone.

Levy Avenue for sale, eminent domain bills to be heard Monday March 20, 2006

[...] Mr. Evergreen summarized the committee’s efforts to develop housing at the Levy Avenue site to date. He explained that CRHA has owned, free and clear, nearly one acre on Levy for many years. With the intent to build affordable housing on that site, the committee released an RFP for architectural services in February, 2005. From that RFP, the committee chose to negotiate with one architect. From that negotiation, it was determined that the cost of the proposed architectural services was beyond what CRHA was willing to commit to.

The committee then re-thought the process and decided to pursue an architecture/builder team in an effort to create positive synergy and lower the cost. An RFP for those services was released in July, 2005. Though the committee held a number of discussions with interested firms, with the award date looming and many questions still to be considered, the committee decided not to make an award at that time and to re-think the project again.

While considering the RFP process for the third time, the committee received guidance from CRHA’s legal representation that suggested a combined RFP for architectural and construction services was not the optimum route. Further, it was strongly suggested that the committee develop a more concrete set of ideas as to what this project would look like before writing and issuing an RFP for architectural services.

Today’s meeting, with two new committee members (architects) was being held to try and come up with a more detailed project plan to serve as the basis to issue and RFP for architectural services. [...]

Belmont-area development considered
Affordable housing planned

By John Yellig / 978-7245, December 15, 2006

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority would like to redevelop a 0.9-acre site in Belmont into a mixed-income, mixed-use development in partnership with a locally based nonprofit group.

Representatives from the authority and the Blue Moon Fund met at City Hall with neighborhood residents Thursday to discuss the project, which would include seven 1,500-square-foot houses and a dozen 1,300-square-foot condominiums on a piece of housing authority property at the corner of Garrett Street and Sixth Street Southeast.

The site, colloquially known as the Levy Avenue lot, is currently vacant except for a parking lot used by city employees.

Half of the units would be sold at market value, the other half to low-income people, preferably housing authority residents, authority Executive Director Noah Schwartz said.

Most of the funding for the project would come from the Blue Moon Fund, an internationally active philanthropic foundation based in Charlottesville. The two organizations have signed a letter of intent.

Schwartz emphasized that the proposed project, which he hopes to complete in three years, remains in a conceptual stage.

“We’re presenting it to the neighborhood just to get their 2 cents,” Schwartz said. “This is just a starting place to talk about it.”

The two condo buildings would have three floors apiece. The first floors would be for commercial space, where a business incubator or local nonprofits might be located.
The entire project would be constructed using Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building techniques. Schwartz hopes the structures can be built to a platinum rating under the green building system.

If built, the project could be the second development constructed to LEED standards in that neighborhood. A nine-story condominium tower is proposed for Avon Street, just west of the Belmont Bridge.

“We’re hoping to create a model to be replicated,” Blue Moon Fund CEO and President Diane Miller said, calling it a “jewel of a project.

“I think it is how Charlottesville needs to be looking at how downtown real estate needs to be developed.”

The housing authority has owned the land for decades and has wanted to build on it for years.

Pressure from developers to sell the property has been mounting recently, said Jason Halbert, a member of the authority’s Board of Commissioners.

“I think we’re sitting on a potentially giant gift of generosity,” he said of the proposed partnership with the Blue Moon Fund.

Belmont Avenue resident and green architect Greg Jackson applauded the proposal.
“The green is absolutely an excellent path, if not imperative, for what development should be,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty impressive.”

The authority and the Blue Moon Fund plan to hold another meeting about the proposal in January.

"Council Beat: Parade of grievances, Housing Authority report"
Levy Avenue parking lot rents for $1 a year

Blair Hawkins, Jan 19, 2005, Charlottesville Independent Media (defunct)

At the Tuesday meeting, a day later than usual due to the Martin Luther King holiday, the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority said it wants to resume the "redevelopment" part of its mission as well as continue its public housing charge. Executive director since the summer, Paul Chedda said the agency needs to become more like a private developer in response to declining federal funding and should seek various sources of funding, similar to the Piedmont Housing Alliance model.

CRHA board chairman Howard Evergreen said the agency rents out the former 600 block of Levy Avenue as a parking lot to the city for one dollar a year and that this land should be sold for development of mixed-use condos. Several of the councilors agreed that more urban renewal is called for. The agency did not identify the true owners of the parking lot.

None of the councilors asked how the agency plans to deal with a Supreme Court ruling expected later this year on the Constitutionality of forced land transfers from one private party to another for the purpose of economic development and increasing real estate assessments. The city attorney did not offer advice. If the court rules in favor of property rights, federal funding of urban renewal would be halted altogether. The urban renewal of Garrett Street was funded by a $3 million federal grant approved in 1970. The high court will hear oral arguments in a Connecticut urban renewal case on February 22.

None of the councilors inquired about the status of the Housing Authority historical archives despite an email last week informing them that the agency had ignored a request from the public since last March. Councilor Blake Caravati did respond by email that he will investigate. Councilor Rob Schilling responded by email thanking me for my interest in this important issue. I forwarded a copy of the petition to the Institute for Justice. ( )


City manager Gary O'CONNELL: Anounced the Council Report reform. From now on, councilors will, from time to time, report on the boards and commisions on which they serve. These reports will normally occur at the end of the meeting. But the first such report will be given by Hamilton in conjunction with the Housing Authority report since she serves on the Housing Task Force. The purpose of the informal reports is to foster better communication.

Councilor Kendra HAMILTON: Housing Authority has a $5.5 million budget, the vast majority from HUD (Housing and Urban Development federal subsidy program) for public housing and Section 8 subsidized rental housing. CRHA manages 376 public housing units and 345 Section 8 apartment units. Most familiar public housing would be Westhaven and Crescent Halls elderly highrise on South First Street. CRHA manages 2 other programs for first-time or low-to-moderate income home buyers: down payment and closing cost assistance program funded by HUD and HOP(Housing Opportunities Partnership) that provides a loan up to $15,000 to fund the gap between house cost and what you can afford if you qualify. It's basically a small authority. I was appointed to the Housing Task Force in June and we first met in July.

Previously, the authority had been "limping along" under part-time director and assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney and a national search for a full-time executive director was underway. There were significant problems: the building and property maintenance operation appeared to have ceased to function at some point. Simple repairs were difficult to get done. Apartment turnovers were taking too long. Managing the authority and managing the staff were difficult. Relationship between staff and residents had deteriorated. "At the first meeting I attended, I have to say I was astonished. I had never seen such a level of hostility and vitriol in a public setting. And I was seriously wondering what I had gotten myself into."

Capital improvements did not take place over the life of the facilities and there has been serious neglect. CRHA faces budget cuts because it relies heavily on federal funding which is being cut. In 6 months so far, she has seen significant positive changes. We completed a national search and hired an executive director in August 2004. The first thing the new director did was go out into the community and talk to people, residents, service providers, staff, finding out where the overlap is, how Housing Authority fits in. The director instituted a series of cost reductions and staff reorganization. What that means is the troubled maintence department was basically gutted, reduced to 2 employees, and everything outsourced such as apartment turnovers and work orders. We're in the midst of hiring a permanent maintenance director who would oversee maintenance and direct the redevelopment effort.

"This was one of the big lacks, is that the Redevelopment portion of the Housing Authority's title had been neglected over the years." Now we're in a state where work orders actually result in repairs. Apartment turnovers have been reduced to a more appropriate level. The new director had an innovative idea in bridge building and plans are underway to build a new accredited state-of-the-art early childcare daycare facility where public housing kids and market rate kids could go in partnership with the United Way, Parks and Recreation, PVCC, Charlottesville city schools, UVa, MACAA, Westhaven clinic, Department of Social Services, and so on.

These are some exciting things. But we still face challenges. The previous interim director commissioned a full facilities audit to assess current resources and create 20 year capital maintenance plan. The figures for deferred maintenance needs are staggering: $1 million for South First Street site, $1.7 million for Crescent Halls, $1.3 million for all of our scattered sites, $5.5 million for Westhaven. We have an ongoing challenge to maintain our funding. CRHA survived the 2002 funding cuts. There are plans to "slice and dice" community block grant we depend on in all neighborhoods.

Councilor Rob SCHILLING: Thanks to Kendra for her report and her service. Would the $5.5 million for Westhaven upgrade be better spent to redevelop the site?

Paul CHEDDA, executive director of Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority: The infrastructure of Westhaven has big problems. But where would the residents go during construction? We have challenges with funding. Can we afford to rebuild that structure? Needs to be conversation with residents, staff, and city at large.

Howard EVERGREEN, chairman of CRHA oversight committee: The figure we got for redeveloping Westhaven is closer to $10 million. We want to sell the Levy Avenue parking lot, that we rent to the city for a dollar a year, for mixed-income mixed-use private and commercial development. We want to put the redevelopment back in our name and ensure some affordable component.

Councilor Kevin LYNCH: Anything left of HOPE VI funds?

CHEDDA: The funds are being phased out. If we are to do anything, we need to look for funding elsewhere.

Councilor Blake CARAVATI: "I've go a few scars that I don't show" from when he served. Concerned about future funding streams that simply maintain present level of service. Concerned about housing vouchers that go unseated, when a house cannot be found in the city to satisfy a voucher.

CHEDDA: First step is to tighten our own belts, do more with less, cutbacks and layoffs, streamlining. Second, we cannot rely on federal funding alone. Do we become more like a private developer and diversify funding streams? Third thing is partnership. It is clear that Housing Authority cannot do this alone. As a community, we need to put our money where our mouth is.

BROWN: Thanked the speakers and moved on to next agenda item.

[End of report]


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