Monday, May 02, 2011

Council invokes eminent domain for Hillsdale dedication

Charlottesville, Va. – If not for concerned citizen Collette Hall, the seizing of 110 parking spaces at Kmart for Hillsdale Drive would have sailed through as a “condemnation.” Hall asked City Attorney Craig Brown if this taking is eminent domain. Brown responded yes. Hall said she opposes eminent domain.

Then, incredibly, Brown claimed Council has been “reluctant” to use eminent domain. In fact, eminent domain comes up at every single City Council meeting, although its name is rarely spoken.

After the Kmart item, Council released a storm drain easement acquired 1993 under implied threat of eminent domain. The item after that was the selling of 409 Stadium Road seized and now surplus for construction of Jefferson Park Avenue. In the next item on the Re-entry Summit for ex-convicts, Councilor Kristin Szakos talked about “CRHA” – Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the most notorious abuser of eminent domain locally.

Councilor Satyendra Huja said the taking was in the public interest – a belief which must have led him to support countless eminent domain abuses as chief City Planner 1973–2004. Only Holly Edwards and Kristin Szakos feigned unease at the ease with which property can be seized. David Brown threatened eminent domain against 610 Ridge Street in Nov. 2006 while he was mayor and connected the urban renewal agency to city, not just federal, funding under his tenure while telling newspapers he couldn’t imagine the city ever using eminent domain. Mayor Dave Norris was absent, but a supporter of unlimited eminent domain and former chairman of the Housing Authority Board.

Tonight’s eminent domain proposal passed 3 to 1. Vice-Mayor Edwards cast the no vote registered in the Norris slot in the electronic vote machine while she sat in his chair.

According to attorney Craig Brown, Kmart does not own the property. Meadowbrook Creek owns the Kmart property as well as the first phase of Hillsdale Drive and Whole Foods. The road is under a public use now. Kmart rents the store and parking lot and has 6 or 7 years left on the lease.

Brown said the condemnation is urgent because the city wants to dedicate the private road as a city public road. But why? Why can’t this private road be an easement for the public use as a public road? Easement was good enough for the storm drain.

The owner Meadowbrook Creek had intended to give the land and road to the city anyway as a proffer for approval of the plan. But they built the road too far into Kmart’s parking lot. It’s not a property rights issue; it’s a lease dispute between Kmart and the property owner. Council has now made it a property rights issue.

Meadowbrook will reimburse the city. So in essence Council is asked to nullify a landlord-tenant agreement between Kmart and its landlord. In return the city will have more public land not paying taxes.

(1) Is this action necessary? No. The property owner agrees to the perpetual public use.
(2) Is this a last resort? No. If Council postponed this item indefinitely, the inaction would have no effect on anyone. The property would continue as a public road.
(3) Is fair market value offered? No. According to Brown a few years ago, fair market value is a sale where neither the buyer nor seller is under any coercion. If Kmart also had the power of eminent domain, then it might be fair.
(4) Have all other options been exhausted? No, not even close. But the action is urgent because they want to dedicate the street. So a dedication is now a justification for eminent domain?

In Charlottesville, eminent domain has been abused excessively. The abuse partly explains why Charlottesville is unfriendly to business. It explains why real estate is so expensive. Every legal act of eminent domain shrinks the real estate market when the property becomes publicly owned.

Eminent domain to seize and sell property for any reason, perhaps to increase the tax base or create jobs or economic development, is a felony under the U.S. Constitution. Even the illegal acts shrink the real estate market because some properties become radioactive with controversy recorded forever in the deed archives in courthouses.

Video of City Council May 2, 2011

20-item, 219-page Council Agenda May 2, 2011 with background materials

Previous Report: Sustainability Fair at old Lane High School, Apr. 27, 2011

Council refuses to release urban renewal archives: Jefferson School conflict of interest: Blighted House has until Feb 15, Nov. 21, 2006 Includes speech delivered by Blair Hawkins and documentation of the first request to view the housing archives March 25, 2004.