Southern and Habitat say they plan to start construction on some of the 46 housing units within two years.
The City bought the land in 1944 and 1957.
In a city where downtown land routinely sells for millions per acre, there's a near-downtown tract that's poised for sale for just $2.85 an acre. No, that's not a typo. But is it a giveaway? Depends on who you ask.
On Monday, May 7, Charlottesville City Council gave final approval for an ordinance allowing the sale of a piece of long-held City land to a team consisting of non-profit Habitat for Humanity and for-profit Southern Development. For a 3.5-acre tract lying just a half a mile south of the Downtown Mall, the buyers will pay $10.
"These are the sorts of games that go on in City Hall," says Rob Schilling, a radio talk show host. "The taxpayers are getting stiffed."
City Hall officials, however, characterize this as a quest to better the city and house the poor. They note that the land– just east of Ridge Street on Elliott Avenue– is currently empty and that the deal before City Council (which took its first vote April 16) came about only after an RFP.
Moreover, it turns out that there was actually a losing offer in this quest for the parcel and that when the proposals were opened in December the losing team offered to pay more but demanded the right to balance its payments by whatever it cost to clean up the property, which had been operated as some sort of landfill. In the event the clean-up cost more than half a million, the losing group– which included former mayor Blake Caravati and former City Council contender Brevy Cannon– wanted the taxpayers to front any extra remediation cost with a low-interest loan.
Why didn't the City just auction the land to the highest bidder?
The City's director of economic development, who served on the staff team to review the two proposals, says the project emerged not from his office but from the planning department which wanted to accomplish neighborhood and other goals over the "bottom line." Indeed, it's clear that the RFP itself tried to downplay price.
"The City is interested in competitively-priced purchase offers, though price will not be the only/primary factor considered," reads the RFP.
"The property has so much clean-up cost associated with it," says Charlottesville's planning director, Jim Tolbert, who orchestrated the sale and who estimates the remediation might cost as much as a million dollars. "Nobody in their right mind is gonna essentially pay anything."
The deal that the four Councilors approved (Councilor Dede Smith voted against the sale) demands that developers reserve "approximately 20" of the planned 46 residential units for families earning 25-60 percent of the local median income.
Calling affordable housing a "scam" because it allegedly favors people who move to Charlottesville and helps perpetuate the City's expensive zoning and other development rules, Schilling says he's particularly disappointed that land sold to the city in two chunks, in 1944 and 1957 as a graveyard expansion, is getting turned over to a development team.
Schilling recently invited longtime neighborhood resident Antoinette Roades on his show on 1070 AM to tell his listeners that Oakwood Cemetery was supposed to serve as a "potters field" for the bodies of indigents and that removing this expansion area kills that function. Roades also notes that the City appears to have been operating this landfill illegally and that– with core samples indicating materials piled over 20 feet deep– the detritus must have been hauled by City workers at the direction of City supervisors.
"Of course, any private landowner who had done the same thing at the same time would have been required to clean the property up under penalty of law," Roades writes in a guest editorial at schillingshow.com. "Failure to do so could have netted a fine, jail time, or both."
Back in the mid 2000s, Albemarle attempted to press penalties on a family that had operated an illegal dump near Keswick. The City, however, simply gets to give up its property. For $10.
–story updated at 9:24am with comments from economic development director and planning director
–updated again at 4:42pm to slightly adjust what Roades told Schilling