Monday, June 20, 2011

Council real estate dealings under scrutiny

Housing Development Specialist Kathy McHugh has facilitated several sales of public land this year.

Charlottesville, Va. – Former Mayor Blake Caravati criticized the City for not being transparent in its sale of surplus public land on Elliott Avenue to Southern Development and Habitat for Humanity. A landlord of nearby houses for 25 years, Caravati compared his not being notified to neighbors of 409 Stadium Road (facing Jefferson Park Avenue), who complained at a recent Council meeting that they had not been notified of that sale.

Both properties currently have “For Sale” signs posted. But as tonight’s meeting shows, said Caravati, the property is already sold. He said many candidates over the years have used transparency as a main issue in their campaigns. He wants to know why other members of the public have no opportunity to make a proposal.

Southern Development is partnering with Habitat to build a 47-unit “Burnet Commons Phase II” in the backyards of houses facing Ridge extending to Lankford Avenue. Three units would be affordable and four finished lots for Habitat to build on. The developer has already negotiated options to purchase the backyards if the project is approved.

Housing Development Specialist Kathy McHugh presented tonight’s agenda item and said the packet includes an ordinance to finalize the sale.

Director of Neighborhood Development Services Jim Tolbert said his department sent out over 80 letters to adjacent property owners but the sale was not posted. According to Tolbert, the Daily Progress made a mistake so tonight’s public hearing is unofficial. The official public hearing will be July 5 at the second reading and Council passage or rejection of the sale first proposed in December.

When neighbors complained about 409 Stadium Road, Tolbert apologized and promised to do better. While Burnet Commons neighbors complained about lack of transparency and process earlier this year when the City sold a different adjacent lot to Habitat, tonight the only Burnet resident to speak had high praise.

Councilor Satyendra Huja asked if there was a rush or deadline. Tolbert said there was none and Council has the option of taking no action. “The earth will not end if it doesn’t get done tonight,” he said.

Ironically, Tolbert said Council could change the process. They could switch the first reading with public hearing to July 5 and pass the ordinance tonight June 20 at the second reading “if you so chose.”

The issue of elected bodies not following process came up in public comment when US 29 Bypass opponents criticized the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors for reviving the bypass in an unannounced, late-night vote June 8 after retiring Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier said cash-strapped VDOT has money for the project.

Except for rhetorical use, the complaints fell on deaf ears because Council uses the same tricks, most dramatically on Jan. 18 with the surprise approval of the 30-foot dam.

In tonight’s special public hearing, in addition to Mayor Caravati, two others spoke: Dan Rosenwieg, Director of Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity and Paul Cook of Burnet Street. But these two spoke in favor of the sale and subsequent development.

In other matters

Renovation is set finally to start in July and last 15 months at Jefferson School. As a result, the Carver precinct voting location will temporarily move to the Institute for Autism on Rose Hill Drive possibly through the November 2012 election. Voter identification cards will be mailed to every registered voter in the city. The JPA precinct will split into two precincts because of population shifts and the 2010 census.

Video of June 20, 2011 City Council meeting

21-item, 193-page Council Agenda June 20, 2011 with background materials. ** NEW ** The Minutes of the previous meeting is included.

Previous Report: TEA Party takes heat at Council meeting, June 6, 2011

Monday, June 06, 2011

TEA Party takes heat at Council meeting

Carol Thorpe speaks April 15, 2010 at Second Tax Day Tea Party

Charlottesville, Va. – In public comment, a deluded Jack Marshall characterized the Jefferson Area TEA Party as deluded. Marshall’s 3-minute speech was one for the ages, to be memorized by students of rhetoric because he used every trick in the book. It was political theater to energize the “radical ideologues” in the TEA Party. Such reckless rhetoric often backfires.

Marshall spoke right after Carol Thorpe, president of the Jefferson Area Taxed Enough Already Party. Marshall called the party, and hence Thorpe, reckless, insulting, anti-history, anti-intellectual, a “conspiratorial absurdity,” along with other epithets.

Mayor Dave Norris joined the negative rhetoric in council comment following public comment. Norris said he likes and has had lunch with Thorpe. But she should see that Sustainability is a “pretty core conservative value.” Conservation saves the City “hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.”

Norris claims “nothing nefarious” and hopes the TEA Party will return to legitimate issues and move away from “extreme conspiracy theories.”

Carol Thorpe explained that her group supports lower-case “sustainability,” principles of conservation and good stewardship of the environment. But, if it’s upper-case “Sustainability,” a set of specific laws mandating right action, then that would be a problem. Thorpe said the livability agenda threatens private property rights.

But Thorpe didn’t specify what property rights are. Besides she was speaking to a 5-member City Council who routinely violate those rights and revise the history of those violations.

Most recently on May 2, the property owner for Kmart, Hillsdale Drive and the new Whole Foods, asked Council to use eminent domain against himself for 110 parking spaces Kmart had been renting before the new road was built. The action would nullify the landlord-tenant agreement and circumvent legal negotiations ongoing between Kmart and landlord Meadowbrook Creek.

What are those property rights? In the United States the foundational rights are public use, just compensation, and due process. They balance individual rights versus group needs. The first two rights are called eminent domain, the only exception for due process and only for property that the society uses.

Due process requires you be found guilty of a crime before your life, liberty, or property can be taken. If society needs your property for the public to use, the only crime you’re guilty of is having property they need. As a safeguard against rampant abuses through history, the American Revolution changed eminent domain to public use, not public good, public benefit, economic development, jobs, blight, or anything else. The revolution added just compensation so if your property is seized, you’re paid an amount that would justify the violation of your due process.

How is Sustainability a threat to due process? In order to protect the environment, your land is designated wetlands and off-limits to you. In effect your property has been seized but you still own it and pay taxes on it. These infringements happen every day; it’s not just academic. If you trespass on your own land, you could be arrested. But what charge – trespassing on your own property?

So you’ll never be charged. Eminent domain will be invoked and the meaning changed. Instead of public use, it will be public good or for the good of the planet and its climate. Instead of just compensation, it will be fair market value, a price that applies only when the seller and buyer are not under any coercion, such as threat of court actions.

The Sustainability advocates claim the draft ordinances resulting from three years master planning will not be binding. A letter in The Daily Progress on Sunday listed the United Nations documents where Sustainability principles have been traced. But they don’t list the Bill of Rights or Declaration of Independence. That’s because they don’t recognize the God-given rights described in those documents.

What’s more important? The environment, the planet, the weather, the global nations? Or you – the most tiny minority of all – only one person? One person can make a difference – for the worse if Jack Marshall prevails and for the better if Carol Thorpe can articulate the radical ideals our forefathers set as the supreme law in our national constitution.

Video of June 6, 2011 City Council Meeting

19-item, 130-page Council Agenda June 6, 2011 with background materials

12-item, 97-page Council Agenda May 16, 2011 with background materials

Previous reports:

Council invokes eminent domain for Hillsdale dedication, May 2, 2011.

Sustainability comes to Council for $1 million, Apr. 18, 2011

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