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


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