Sunday, April 15, 2007

Stone house demolished: Hollymead developer clueless

A stone house has occupied a spot in a cleared field for about two years as the site around it has given way to the latest expansion of Hollymead Town Center, a rapidly developing commercial center along U.S. 29 in northern Albemarle. Now where the house once stood there is nothing but a cavernous pit and a mound of red clay - testaments to the bulldozers. The house was leveled last week to make way for a large national department store....

The stories about why it was there continue to baffle Wood. Some said the house, built in the 1920s, had a stubborn tenant who wasn’t going to give it up, large shopping center or not. Others told of an owner who was holding out. Wood said there are about 15 other variations.

Wood said he’s owned the house for about 35 years. Edward McCue Jr., who served in the state Senate from 1950 to 1967, used to live there, Wood said. There have been about 10 other tenants over the years, from students to business owners....

Hearing the rumors has given Wood a laugh, he said. “I guess a lot of people … could make a better story,” Wood said. “How do rumors get going?”

Full story: "Stone house is turned - into rubble: Large home next to Hollymead shopping center demolished." By Jeremy Borden, April 15, 2007. The Daily Progress

The most famous person to have resided in this house:

Edward Overton McCue Jr.

Offered April 20, 1994

On the death of Edward Overton McCue, Jr

WHEREAS, Edward Overton McCue, Jr., a prominent member of the General Assembly for more than 34 years, died on July 27, 1993; and

WHEREAS, born in Charlottesville in 1901 and a lifelong resident of the Charlottesville-Albemarle area, Edward McCue was a graduate of Charlottesville High School [Midway School] and earned his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1926; and

WHEREAS, first elected in 1933, Edward McCue served in the House of Delegates from 1934 through 1948, chairing the House Courts of Justice Committee; and

WHEREAS, Edward McCue was elected to the Senate in 1950, to serve the unexpired term of John S. Battle, who was elected Governor in 1949; [....]

His best known legislation: The McCue Amendment to require a referendum vote on public housing projects.

"On March 11, 1960, the city council received an application by the CRHA under amendment 14A: Title 36 VA Code 1950.1 (This section, referred to as the McCue amendment, required a referendum vote on public housing projects; it was overturned in 1971.)"

"Public Housing in Charlottesville: The Black Experience in a Small Southern City"
by William M. Harris, Sr. and Nancy Olmsted.
The article appeared originally in The Review of Black Political Economy, Vol. 46, Charlottesville, May, 1988, pp. 29-95. (F232.A3M3v.46 1988)

Court clerk files false claim 3x, funds withdrawn for online land records

"The State Compensation Board has withdrawn $52,280 set aside for Charlottesville’s Circuit Court, finding that the clerk falsely claimed his office’s records were online. Clerk Paul C. Garrett said he had not yet spent the money, but declined further comment. Records indicate that he planned to use the funds to pay a vendor to put land records online....

On March 28, the State Compensation Board voted to revoke approval of Garrett’s funds, which were made available based on his three certifications that he was providing secure remote access to the land documents....

Both Garrett and Albemarle’s court clerk, Shelby J. Marshall, have said they’ll be ready to go online by July. The State Compensation Board indicated it would reconsider Garrett’s technology fund request after his records go online.

Full story: "State pulls court's funds for database: Clerk claimed records were online." By Liesel Nowak, April 15, 2007, The Daily Progress

"Some records should be online". Mar. 18, 2007, Letter in The Daily Progress

It is said that in politics perception is reality. Hence, the second law of politics states that all politicians are liars. The politicians don't mean any harm. They simply need to create whatever perception necessary to exercise power to do what they believe is in the public's best interest.

But in true reality, perception is often in error. So when I read the article about putting public records online ("Online records stir debate," Mar. 11. The Daily Progress), I asked myself, what if the city and county clerks of the court, Charlottesville's Paul Garrett and Albemarle's Shelby Marshall, are actually expressing a perception that's in opposition to reality? What if online public records would actually make it more difficult for crimes to occur?

As it stands now, the unemployed or wealthy can walk into the courthouse and steal identities. If the records were online, everyone would have more peace of mind by being able to check their own records from time to time. If the government charges $1,000 a year to access your own records, only the wealthy will be able to abuse the information they contain.

While I agree sensitive account information shouldn’t be online, public land records should be freely accessible. Knowledge is power, but only for those who possess the knowledge. I've been researching urban renewal for seven years. The courthouse charges fifty cents a photocopy and does not allow photographs to be taken of the deeds.

Online land records would make it easier for people displaced over the years to research their roots. It would make it possible to estimate the true scale of eminent domain use and identify trends. But the main purpose of digitizing the record is preservation. It's not unheard-of to lose an entire archive of legal documents to fire.

Online land records also make it easier to identify injustices, past and present, by both private citizens and public officials, sometimes the two in cooperation.

In the case of real estate, sunshine is the only true antiseptic. But politicians and criminals alike need secrecy for a false perception to flourish.

Blair Hawkins
Charlottesville, Virginia

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Virginia 36th state to reform eminent domain

April 5, 2007

Virginia Enacts Meaningful Eminent Domain Reform
Property Owners Have Real Protection Against Abuse

Arlington, Va.-Yesterday, the Virginia General Assembly approved Gov. Tim Kaine’s amendments to H.B. 2954, commonsense eminent domain reform that provides Virginians with much-needed protection from tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers. Virginia is now the 36th state to pass legislation aimed at protecting home and small business owners in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which allows government to forcibly take property for private gain. It joins Wyoming in passing eminent domain reform this year.

“This is a proud day for Virginians,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition, the Institute for Justice’s grassroots eminent domain advocacy project. The Institute for Justice litigated the Kelo case. “After failing to pass reform last session, the General Assembly responded to the popular outcry against eminent domain abuse and returned this year committed to protecting the Commonwealth’s home and small business owners.”

H.B. 2954, sponsored by Delegate Rob Bell, requires that private property be seized for only traditional “public uses,” like roads, schools and post offices. It also tightens the Housing Authorities Law’s definition of “blight,” which was so broad that almost any property could be designated “blighted.” Local governments can still acquire properties that pose a real threat to public health or safety, but perfectly fine homes and businesses can no longer be seized using vague and subjective criteria like “deteriorated” and “dilapidated,” nor can they be seized because they happen to sit within “blighted” areas.

H.B. 2954 received overwhelming support in both chambers and Gov. Kaine offered mostly nominal amendments to the legislation, leaving intact the bill’s strong protections, though one amendment does exempt the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority from the provisions of the bill until July 1, 2010, as the city builds a new public recreational facility.

“Many people worked on this bill-from activists to legislators-and they all should be applauded for finally getting protection for Virginians,” said Anderson. “Nationwide, homes and small businesses are seized for big-box stores and luxury condominiums. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison would surely be proud that this is no longer the case in their home state.”

Christina Walsh
Castle Coalition Coordinator Institute for Justice 901 N. Glebe Road, Suite 900 Arlington, VA 22203 (703) 682-9320
P.S. HELP THE CASTLE COALITION GROW! Forward this message to your friends. They can sign-up here:

Dear Coalitionists:

Yesterday both Houses of the General Assembly accepted the Governor's recommended changes to HB2954, SB781, and SB1296. All that is needed now is the Governor's signature which is simply procedural. Because of questions raised by several coalition members I have listed the specific changes this legislation provides along with a brief explanation of why they were included or needed.

The Legislation:

1. Prohibits taking private property if the primary purpose is for private benefit, an increase in tax base or revenues, or an increase in employment.

This directly addresses the abuses allowed by the Kelo decision.

2. Limits the use of the power of eminent domain to well-established, traditional public uses such as schools, roads, parks, public services and utilities and to specific named entities both public and private which take part in development of public facilities.

This reverses the expansion of eminent domain in Virginia that had led to Kelo type takings prior to the ruling.

3. Restricts the amount of land taken to no more than is necessary for the public use.

This directly addresses abuses such as occurred in the Ottafaro case where only 18% of the property taken was needed for the road.

4. Allows owners to defend themselves in cases where the government's stated public use is merely a contrived justification for taking property for an improper/illegitimate purpose.

This directly addresses the abuse allowed by Virginia courts in the Ottafaro and Lacy cases. As you remember, in: Ottafaro, the City took the Ottafaro's property for a road and then leased 82 % of the property to a private developer for a big box store and other retail establishments. Lacy, the property was taken for a so called "public road" that served as a driveway for the person who asked for and paid the County for the taking

5. Provides that whenever property is taken the public interest must “dominate”private gain.

Addresses Lacy because this taking was clearly carried out strictly for private gain. 6. Prohibits the taking of property if the primary purpose is for private financial gain. Addresses Ottafaro and Hoffman because the talking in both of these cases was for the private gain of a developer whom the government favored.

7. Tightens the definition of blight, only allowing property to be taken if it endangers public health or safety and when a structures is involved, it can only be taken if it is beyond repair or unfit for human occupancy or use.

This removes the broad definition of blight found in the current Virginia Housing Authority Code which allows homes and entire neighborhoods to be taken because some property is deteriorating (this can simply mean old) or because it may become blighted at some point in the future. Under this tightening of Virginia Code, localities can still take and/or require the repair of dilapidated and/or vacant buildings by simply enforcing laws which are already on the books.

8. Prohibits the taking of a non-blighted property, just because the property is located in a blighted area.

This directly addresses abuses which have occurred throughout the Commonwealth in redevelopment/conservation areas under current Housing Authority Law. In these areas, perfectly good homes and businesses have been condemned and made available to private developers simply because other property in the area was blighted

9. Reaffirms that the right to property is a fundamental right. This will force courts to give private property the highest judicial protection which was the intention of our Founders. Thomas Jefferson said, the defense of private property "is the standard by which 'every provision of law,' past and present will be judged." He would undoubtedly be happy to see property rights given their intended position.

Congratulations! Today is a happy day for the people of Virginia.
Kindest regards,
Nancy McCord, President

John and Nancy McCord in Charlottesville January 13
Eminent domain topic at Republican Breakfast

Urban renewal planner Huja runs for Council

Eminent domain remains top issue

Charlottesville, Virginia-- An expert on the settlement of seized lands and resettlement of displaced populations, Satyendra Singh Huja will formally announce his candidacy for the June 2 Democratic nomination for three seats on City Council for the November 6 election.

The formal announcement will be Thursday, April 12: 10:00 a.m. in front of City Hall.

Huja received a Masters Degree in Urban Planning from Michigan State University in 1968 and was first in his class, according to his resume.

His masters thesis was titled: A Comprehensive Theory of Human Settlement: A Framework for Planning. The resume describes the thesis as “a comprehensive theory for understanding and planning of human settlement in its material as well as non-material aspects.”

Huja was director of planning for the city of Charlottesville from June 1973 to June 2004. As such, Huja oversaw much of the non-Vinegar Hill urban renewal rival candidate Jennifer McKeever referred to April 3 in a speech at 10th and Page (“City Council hopeful proposes incentives: McKeever seeking to rehabilitate housing” by Bob Gibson. Apr. 4, 2007. The Daily Progress.) As a candidate, McKeever has spoken to longtime city residents “whose homes and neighborhoods are no longer on the map because of the policies of urban renewal.”

During the upcoming campaign, Huja will be expected to fill in more details of his role in Charlottesville’s history, or lack thereof.

On his Record of Service webpage, five of the six main headings are related to urban renewal: Revitalization. Environment and Open Space. Art, Cultural, and Historic Preservation. Housing. The heading not obviously related is transportation…unless you include putting roads selectively through minority neighborhoods.

Huja now says he advocated for the 1976 initial phase of the downtown pedestrian mall. But on June 30, he recalled how he had found it "worrisome" that so few businesses supported the mall. He pointed out that the mall had already been proposed when he was hired ("The men behind the mall: we did it to save downtown.” Jul. 1, 2006. Blair’s Blog).

Historic preservation? Give me a break. Under the Housing heading, Huja lists Midway Manor as an accomplishment. Photo of one of the historical landmarks lost during Huja’s tenure.

Midway School across the street from Vinegar Hill. Midway Manor now occupies the parking lot of the 1828 building razed while Huja claims to have preserved history. Where’s that history now, Mr. Huja?

The idea that high profile officials of urban renewal have been lining up to fill positions of leadership should set off alarms. Huja’s candidacy alone presents the community an opportunity for a perfect political storm. How much longer can urban renewal be tolerated regardless of how many people vote for it?

Huja for Council campaign website

Huja joins three others seeking the Democratic nomination: Linda Seaman, Jennifer McKeever, and Holly Edwards. Edwards is member of the Public Housing Association of Residents and therefore related to urban renewal as a beneficiary. ( For times and dates of this week’s announcements over at Democratic Central

Updates on other stories

Blighted House at 610 Ridge Street

The condemnation notice is no longer posted. The boards no longer cover the windows. Council backed down from the threatened seizure.

“Council refuses to release urban renewal archives: Jefferson School conflict of interest: Blighted House has until Feb 15.” Nov. 21, 2006.

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

Election Precinct Modifications

The conservative 5-member Council has unanimously agreed to continue the antiquated electoral system for fear any change may lead to improved representation on Council.

“Council may create new commission to update precinct boundaries after ignoring 2 commissions in 2 years.” Jan. 17, 2007.

Republican Opposition

While the Democrats charge ahead with their thinly veiled urban renewal agenda, the Republicans have no candidates and no positions. The Pubs don’t even want voters to know they’re Republican for fear voters will equate the Cville party with the state and national parties. Yet in the last several years, the Cville Pubs made no effort to distinguish themselves and chose instead not to have a position, such as on the gay marriage amendment and eminent domain abuse.

Originally I joined the Cville Republicans in 2002 in an effort to save Jefferson School. The Democratic Party has abandoned the school and tried to sell the landmark for redevelopment. I knew I’d be the only Jefferson School supporter in the Republican Party. But my plan was eventually to recruit enough new members to elect a pro-preservation chairman but that never happened. In 2000 Michael Crafaik took over the Republican committee with just two dozen supporters but lost control just two years later to Bob Hodous, a real estate attorney and member of the Housing Authority's board of directors in the '70s.