Monday, March 08, 2010

Vinegar Hill Condo Tower Canceled

Built 1957 as Mooney Oldsmobile, recently equipment rental, now a furniture store. (Photo Sep. 2007)

Charlottesville, Va.—The proposed 9-story condo tower at Main and McIntire, approved by City Council September 2007, is the latest victim of the economic downturn. But the property owner blames city officials for their stingy approval process.

Russell Mooney wants to sell the site for $4.8 million. Assessed at about $1 million, the annual taxes are around $9,500. The buildings now house a furniture store and a book store. (“West Main property waits for purpose” by Rachana Dixit, March 7, 2010, The Daily Progress.)

The 1957 and 1936 buildings survive the 1964 urban renewal clearance of Vinegar Hill. The historic nature of the site was brought up in BAR meetings in 2006 when demolition was approved contingent the BAR approve the plans. Besides being a historical marker for Vinegar Hill, the site is historic for other reasons.

John West was a black real estate speculator who owned and developed Vinegar Hill following the Civil War. The Westhaven public housing project, the city’s first, is named to honor the contributions of John West.

But Westhaven is rentals. West was a developer, not so much a landlord. A developer buys land, builds houses, then sells the land. In the 1890s Booker T. Washington visited Vinegar Hill numerous times and held the area as a model for blacks to empower themselves through land ownership. Because of high-profile lynchings and torture in the 1850s, Charlottesville was more tolerant of blacks following the Civil War until the Progressive era of the early 1900s.

If not for a barber who inherited the wealth of a famous local madam, the City’s deed records would not record this piece of history. Charlottesville was incorporated in 1888. You have to go to the County’s Courthouse for city deeds older than that.

Clarence Andrews was Madam Marguiretta de Crescioli’s sole heir. Andrews sold this particular property April 2, 1951 (City Deed Book 156 Page 470) and proclaimed in the deed John West to be a previous owner. Frank L. Herndon flipped the property the same day at the same price to Russell D. Mooney and Marvin S. Mooney.

The Mooney’s have owned the property since 1951. They witnessed Vinegar Hill, Garrett Redevelopment, Downtown pedestrian mall, the decline of West Main and clearance of Preston Avenue.

In historical irony, the Mooneys proffered $300,000 in 2007 for rezoning to allow the condo tower. The proffer would go to redevelopment of Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority properties, the same agency that spared Mooney Oldsmobile when they cleared Vinegar Hill.

That proffer was for the rezoning. Where’s the proffer for the BAR approval? Why were they expecting anything else? Has anyone noticed vacant stores and apartments multiplying all over town? Will more regulation or less regulation fix this problem?

Will the Mooneys get their $300,000 back? (The Progress story never mentioned the proffer.)

“City CVS design shot down” by Will Goldsmith, Dec. 5, 2006, Cville Weekly. Includes sketch of proposed business not approved by BAR.

“Tower plan could alter downtown” by Seth Rosen, Aug. 13, 2007, The Daily Progress. (Link returns “file not found”. )

"ONARCHITECTURE- Squeeze play: Planners stymie West Main developer", Published August 23, 2007 in issue 0634 of the HooK. By DAVE MCNAIR.

“Proffer Bribes on Vinegar Hill to fund urban renewal” by Blair Hawkins, Aug. 22, 2007.

“Proffer on Vinegar Hill to fund redevelopment of seized properties” by Blair Hawkins, Sep. 3, 2007. Includes photos, Sep. 4, 2007 Council background and Nov. 28, 2005 BAR Minutes.

“Land for Vinegar Hill condo tower once owned by John West and Madam Marguiretta” by Blair Hawkins, Sep. 13, 2007. Includes vignette history of the madam made famous in 1972 when Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority bulldozed the house. Marguiretta’s large stash of cash buried in the brick walls came flying out.

(A) Mooney Oldsmobile
(B) Midway School (Charlottesville High) 1893-1940, building 1828-1970s.
(C) Lane High 1940-1970s.
(D) (To right of letter) McGuffey School 1916-1970s
(E) 1894 Jefferson School house. 1926 Jefferson School and 1958 additions to left of E. First Jefferson School 1865 at 632 W. Main at Colored First Baptist Church in Delevan Hotel/Civil War Hospital torn down 1883.

Madam Marguiretta de Crescioli's opulent brothel 1922-1951 at 303 Fifth St. SE. House built 19th Century, razed 1972. Date of photo unknown.