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.


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