Saturday, November 17, 2007

Levy Avenue update: All 5 owners identified

Levy site is Lots 2-11 Block 4 Belmont

Charlottesville, Va.—Eight of the 10 parcels that make up the Housing Authority’s Levy Avenue site were acquired in three condemnation lawsuits in 1972. Lots 7 and 11 were purchased by the Authority under threat of condemnation in 1971. The 1891 plat of Belmont shows the original development as Lots 2-11 Block 4, south side of Levy. The site now rents to the city as an employee parking lot for $1 a year.

On this block, the last of the three holdouts were Dennis F. and Mildred B. Hensley. They had bought lots 2,3,4, now vacant and overlooking Friendship Court, in 1964 from Mary E. and Haynes C. Settle. The Housing Authority paid the most for this property, $50,000, and took title June 26, 1972, Deed Book 337 Page 528. Real estate tax of 1971 and half of 1972 were deducted. Nine thousand went to the bank. The balance was deposited with the Clerk of the Court.

The second most expensive property was $28,500 for lots 5,6,8,9. Better Living Inc. purchased the lots 1963-65 to secure bonds for the company. Charlottesville Lumber Company Inc. was renamed Better Living Inc. in 1968 (Charter Book 15 Page 86, July 20, 1968).

Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, petitioner, v. Better Living Inc, defendant

“This cause came on this day to be heard upon the papers formerly read and more particularly upon the report of the commissioners dated and filed April 18, 1972, and was argued by counsel…CRHA has paid to Carl E. Hennrich, Clerk of the Corporation Court of Charlottesville, Virginia, the sum of $28,500 as ascertained by the commissioners in said report to be the value of the land taken in this cause…The property hereinafter described is necessary for the development of an urban renewal project.” (Deed Book 335 Page 251, April 18, 1972)

Lot 10 was owned by Irene Payne Draper and six siblings. $8,500 were deposited in the Clerk of the Court’s Office to be split among 7 children of Emma E. Payne, who died intestate 1956 (Deed Book 337 Page 446, June 1, 1972). Emma Payne had acquired the property June 15, 1945 (Deed Book 120 Page 350).

The cheapest properties were the ones where the owners negotiated a deal to avoid condemnation.

The Housing Authority paid $3,500 for Lot 11 from Mary C. Lushbaugh and Ellen V. Nash, executors of the estate of E.M. Charlie, deceased (DB 326 P 296. May 26, 1971).

Lot 7 (and 5,6) was once owned by Mr. Azhia Azar, with real estate holdings in Belmont, Garrett, and ½ interest in store at 501 E. Main (now Market St. parking garage). Azar bought lot 7 from Sally E. Manley, widow, Dec. 14, 1916 (Deed Book 29 Page 392). Azar died Mar. 12, 1936.

But his estate lived on as a trust. A 1944 deed lists 18 paragraphs of properties and the donation of land for Ware Street extension to extend 4th Street SE and connect Garrett Street and Elliott Avenue for the 1929 Ix textile factory (Deed Book 64 Page 43, Dec 20, 1928). Frank Ix & Sons Silk Mill closed 1999. In 2002 the Ware Street extension was renamed 2nd Street SE.

Peoples National Bank of Charlottesville (1875-1963) and W.F. Long, executor of the estate of Azhia Azar, sold lot 7 to Edna F. Moon for $4,350 (Deed Book 127 P 198, July 25, 1946). Upon her death, Moon left her entire estate to her sister Carrie L. Tooley (deed Book 133 P 231, Aug. 5, 1947).

Tooley, a widow, negotiated with the Housing Authority and settled at $6,500 for the lot and “dwelling house thereon” and title was transferred on Aug. 23, 1971 (Deed Book 329 P 173).

After 35 years, what does it all mean?

There’s a risk that an owner could bring suit today and argue that the Levy site was not “necessary in the development of an urban renewal project.” Other projects were developed nearby. Levy is still not redeveloped. There’s been no necessity to any project. Therefore the Housing Authority does, in fact, not own the Levy site “free and clear,” if at all.

The Housing Authority paid a total of $97,000 for the site in 1971-72 dollars. As a 35-year-old parking lot, the 0.846-acre consolidated parcel is now assessed at $449,300.

When I requested from the Housing Authority the deed numbers for Levy Avenue, Randy Bickers gave me the deeds for the 1971 acquisitions. These appear as normal sales where the property is for sale and a buyer pays the selling price. When I requested the remaining deeds, Bickers referred the request to the city’s legal department.

Thursday afternoon, after I published my previous update, Barbara Ronan of the legal department called me and gave me the other three deed numbers from a Nov. 5, 2005 title search. Friday afternoon I spent an hour researching the deeds. These deeds were written by the court as a result of condemnation.

Also Thursday afternoon, the Carter G. Woodson Institute returned my morning call. They referred me to Scot French, now the director of Digital Knowledge at Alderman Library. French said he has only digital files and assumes the original archives are back at the Historical Society, or wherever they came from.

French said the files should be online and searchable within two months. He took my number. I said I would follow up in January 2008.

When that database of photos and documents goes online, you’ll be able to see what the fuss was all about. Example of deed and photo of an urban renewal property.

509 Ware St. was owned 1960-1971 by Mrs. Laura Dowell.

509 Ware St conveyed to CRHA for $10,600 (Deed Book 331 Page 360, Nov. 9, 1971)

Some other properties noted in deed research of Nov. 16, 2007.

June 1, 1972. Deed Book 337 Page 449. 801 6th Street SE. CRHA v. Ellen V. Nash, Trustee, etc. et al. Compensation $9,400. Plat date Nov. 22, 1919, DB 34 P 252.

June 1, 1972. Deed Book 337 Page 452. At South First and Diggs Street. CRHA v. Virginia Michie Jones, et al. Compensation $4,700.

June 1, 1972. Deed Book 337 Page 456. On Parrott Street adjacent colored cemetary. CRHA v. James Michie. Compensation $2,500.

June 1, 1972. Deed Book 337 Page 473. Nine lots including 6th SE, Diggs, and South First. CRHA v. Moses Bryant, et al. Compensation $35,000.

For maps and plats and stories related to Levy Avenue site.
“Levy Avenue update: Proof of ownership incomplete”, Nov. 15, 2007.

For more photos( 10 unidentified houses, 8 photos of 6 houses).
“An Inconvenient Truth”: Report from Housing Authority: Update on archives, HUD request”, July 16, 2006.

CRHA v. The Gleason Corporation et al. First of 3 deeds showing 14.5 acres condemned for $370,000. Dec. 6, 1976. Deed Book 330 Page 567. ("Luxury Gleason Condos: urban renewal still not over", Nov. 27, 2006)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Levy Avenue update: Proof of ownership incomplete

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

1891 Plat of Belmont showing Lots 2-11 (red) Block 4. Lots 7 and 11 (green). More complete Belmont Plat at end of story.

Charlottesville, Va.—It now appears the Housing Authority has been unable to sell the Levy Avenue parking lot because of deed problems.

In response to a Nov. 12 request for the deed numbers for this property, Randy Bickers of the Housing Authority found three deed references for Levy. One deed is the original 1891 plat of the Belmont neighborhood. The other two deeds identify 612 Levy acquired Aug. 23, 1971 from Carrie L. Tooley, and 620 Levy acquired May 26, 1971, from the estate of E.M.Charlie.

Eight of the ten lots that make up the site are unaccounted for.

Last night (Nov. 14) at the Westhaven community center, executive director of the Redevelopment and Housing Authority since Jul. 25, 2005, Noah Schwartz mentioned “Levy Avenue” at least ten times as a high profile example of redevelopment to come. He also said the Housing Authority owns Levy free and clear. But he never said when the Authority acquired the Levy site.

The city’s Housing Authority is actually a real estate company. They buy and sell property. Some of the property they keep to rent out to low-income residents. They don’t call it the Housing Company because the company has the authority to buy property that’s not for sale. This unusual power is the main source of the agency’s controversy and motivation against preserving history.

Also last night, when Joy Johnson was saying Westhaven’s history should be preserved since it was “birthed” from Vinegar Hill, Schwartz said the history of all the properties should be preserved. How do you find out a property’s history? You trace the deed back. But you need to know the deed to start. As a real estate company, which has recently done a full inventory of assets, the Housing Authority should have a master list of all its properties and their deed numbers.

The main theme of the community meeting was trust. Again and again, people asked, how can we trust the Housing Authority given the agency’s past and current history?

Chairman of the Board of Directors who direct the Housing Authority, Kendra Hamilton said City Council appoints all seven members of the board, but the Authority and the City are “completely separate.” Hamilton undermined the trustworthiness she was projecting by falsely asserting that CRHA is somehow not a city agency.

Hamilton nodded in agreement when Johnson said we should preserve the history. Hamilton is unfriendly to preserving local black history and refused, along with the rest of Council on Nov. 20, 2006, to allow public access to Housing Authority Archives. She pretended not to know about the research effort despite a Jan. 2005 email and numerous newsblog postings that document the unwillingness to cooperate with historic preservation.

The Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia now has the archives that show the history of the Housing Authority. In February the Institute gave a talk on this research project at First Baptist Church on West Main. But today, the Institute’s website has no mention of the special collection, which includes 6,845 physical documents. I called the Institute this morning for an update and left a message.

I contacted Randy Bickers of the Housing Authority several times this week. When my research discovered that ten pracels comprise the Levy site, I asked if he could find the other eight deeds. Bickers said he has referred the request to the city’s legal department (further showing the Authority and the City are not separate). This morning I called Bickers a final time and left a message asking if he would call me with those deed numbers or if I now need to deal with the City’s legal department on follow-up.

Established 1954, the Housing Authority will hold three more community meetings to gather input on potential redevelopment plans for all of its 11 public housing sites totaling 376 units. In a Nov. 5 letter to public housing residents, director Schwartz identified some of the sites to be re-redeveloped: “Westhaven, South First Street, Crescent Halls, Madison Avenue, Michie Drive, Riverside Avenue and Levy Avenue.”

Nov. 19 – Crescent Halls (5:00-6:30)
Nov. 20 – South First Street Community Center (5:00-6:30)
Nov. 28 – Sixth Street SE Community Center (5:00-6:30).

“Researcher Luanne Williams talked about the actual project. When ready, anyone should be able to search online the names and addresses, deeds and assessments, photos and maps. Williams said the collection comprised

1,189 visual media files
6,845 physical documents
189 maps and blueprints
6,199 files related to GIS mapping

for a total of 14,422.”

Luanne Williams, Feb. 24, 2007
( First Baptist Church site of first Jefferson School. Feb. 25, 2007 )

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

Levy Avenue for sale: Eminent domain in your face December 15, 2006

Council refuses to release urban renewal archives: Jefferson School conflict of interest: Blighted House has until Feb 15 November 21

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

Charlottesville 1904-1916 interactive street map.

CRHA director Noah Schwartz standing before crowd, to his right seated at table is Randy Bickers.

1891 Plat of Record of Belmont, County Deed Book 96 Page 72.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Voters approve Council, School Board junket to Italy

Charlottesville, Va.—Yesterday voters approved a controversial trip to Tuscany, Italy, to visit sister city Poggio a Caiano. The stated purpose of the trip was to foster closer ties and develop a student exchange program. City schools do not offer Italian.

The trip began today, the day after election, for the reelected mayor David Brown, reelected School Board member Alvin Edwards (mayor 1988-1996), and city schools superintendent Rosa Atkins, after she said yesterday that she would not go.

Last week Alvin Edwards announced he would pay his own way. At Monday’s Council meeting, vice mayor Kendra Hamilton, who’s stepping down after one term, announced she would not go to Italy. She’s already visited the city at public expense in 2004. She seemed to say it’s not fair for people to complain about this junket when previous junkets have not been controversial.

Atkins’ assistant superintendent Gertrude Ivory was to accompany the group also. It was announced that an anonymous donor would pay for Ivory’s trip. That same donor will now pay Atkins’ way instead. Is it legal for an anonymous person to donate money to a public servant for the purpose of influencing a decision? That raises the question: how many anonymous donations were made to the political campaigns?

In the days leading up to election, Brown said he planned to go to Italy despite the controversy. He said missing six days of work was already a financial sacrifice. The three officials (Brown, Edwards, Atkins) have left for Europe as of this report. Hamilton and Ivory stay behind.

Urban renewal icon top vote-getter in 2007

The election made history for other reasons. City planner 1973-2004, an expert in the resettlement of seized lands and displaced populations with a Masters Degree from Michigan State University, Satyendra Huja was first in the general election with 62% of the 25% who voted, or 16% of registered voters. During the campaign, he touted his experience of getting things done.

The preliminary results were provided by Dreama Montrief of the Office of the Voter Registrar. At 25 cents a sheet, I paid $3 for the results. The office was not ready to release the more than 400 write-in votes. Rick Sincere of the Electoral Board commented on those write-ins in his blog post of 1am this morning. At lunch time, I could see Sincere through a window in the next office with Registrar Sheri Iachetta and others. I’ll attempt to access those public records again during lunch Thursday.

The write-ins are not available on the city’s official website but the numerical results are available.

Name ... Votes ... % (6,086 turnout, 23,506 registered voters)

City Council (3 elected for 5-member council)

Satyendra Huja 3,797 62
David Brown 3,781 62
Holly Edwards 3,711 60
Peter Kleeman 2,212 36
Barbara Haskins 2,111 34

School Board (7 members, 4 elected)

Kathy Galvin 3,240 53
Colette Blount 2,972 48
Luzelle Dugger 2,479 41
Alvin Edwards 2,370 38
Grant Brownrigg 1,852 30
Sean McCord 1,649 27
Lynette Meynig 1,182 19

Senate 25th District
Creigh Deeds 5,097 83

House 57th District
David Toscano 5,276 86

Soil and Water Conservation Director

Richard Collins 3,186 52
John Conover 3,295 54
John Pfalz 1,607 26

Note: Percentages are number of votes received divided by Total Voting of 6,086. The Registrar and State Board of Elections use a different method.

For comparison:

“[Dave] Norris received 3,945 votes, 66% of 26% who turned out, and 17% of registered voters [on May 2, 2006].

[Julian] Taliaferro 3,742, 62%, 16%.

[Rob] Schilling 2,460, 41%, 11%. He picked up 291 votes since ’02. The NAACP and The Tribune, Charlottesville’s African-American newspaper since 1954, endorsed Schilling.

In comparison, top vote-getter in ’04 Kendra Hamilton received 3,465 with 65% of the 27% turnout and Blake Caravati 2,528 in ’02 with 58% of the 22%.” (“Democrats regain monopoly in Charlottesville: School Board weak on safety”, May 4, 2006)

Ned Michie received 3,099 votes, 52% of the turnout in the May 2006 election. He was the only incumbent and was appointed by the City Council. Leah Puryear and Juandiego Wade were also elected. With the Nov. ’07 election, the city’s first fully elected school board will be composed entirely of members elected at-large.

In this year's election, Alvin Edwards was the only appointed school board member still on the board. He was appointed June 2005. Nov. 2005 a voter referendum forced Council, despite unanymous Council opposition, to switch to an elected school board.