Condemned land: Council okays eminent domain for Parkway

The long-planned Meadow Creek Parkway has overcome two hurdles in the past week that would allow construction of the interchange to begin in January. A federal judge rejected a lawsuit, and City Council okayed the use of eminent domain to condemn the property of a recalcitrant owner.

"Regrettably, we don't think we can reach an agreement," Angela Tucker, the city's development services manager, told Council June 4, referring to an approximately one-acre property at the southwest corner of McIntire Road and the U.S. 250 Bypass owned by Middle Mountain LLC. The city wants half of it for the interchange.

Charlottesville was also prepared to issue a Certificate of Take, as those condemnation-starting documents are called, on slices of land owned by Covenant School, but Tucker asked Council to defer action on that agenda item.

"We're pleased to report we reached tentative agreement with Covenant School," explained Tucker.

The Middle Mountain property was appraised at $230K, and the city offered its owner $247K. That offer was  rejected, and Charlottesville will put $229,859 in an escrow account and issue a Certificate of Take, allowing it to proceed with interchange construction.

David Witmer, owner of Middle Mountain LLC, along with his wife and parents, did not speak at the meeting, but he tells the Hook that the city's offer is financially "devastating," particularly for his 74-year-old father, who bought the property for retirement income.

The family paid $407,000 for the property in 2006, and planned to develop it as an infill project with 42 units, says Witmer, who estimates it would have been worth $1 million. The city's current offering will go to the bank, says Witmer, who has retained an attorney.

"When I bought the property," says Witmer, "the consensus was [Meadow Creek] would never happen. I understand municipalities have to take property, but at least offer what we have in it. It's unconscionable to come in at a fraction of that."

City Council voted 3-2 to take his property, with councilors Dave Norris and Dede Smith voting against the resolution.

Peter Kleeman, one of the litigants against the parkway, objected to the eminent domain, which was coupled with two other resolutions to grant easements to Dominion Virginia Power and CenturyLink.

"The city is taking an easement from property owners and giving it to CenturyLink for $1," said Kleeman. He wondered why the city didn't purchase the whole property and then grant utility easements.

Kleeman urged "a negotiated settlement rather than the city coming to take your land."

In other action, City Council voted in favor of a resolution for a Constitutional Amendment reversing the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections, which gave corporations the right to express political viewpoints.

And while most speakers at the meeting denounced Citizens United, one citizen scolded Council for debating state, federal, and international issues instead of focusing on local ones. Naomi Roberts, who last month objected to the city's resolution asking the state to downplay marijuana enforcement, accused councilors of wasting time and caving to activists who "rant and rave." Councilor Kathy Galvin concurred.

"We do not have a role in amending the Constitution," Galvin read from a statement noting that such activity "runs the risk of undermining our Council's credibility and runs the risk of making us look ineffectual."

City Council passed the resolution to amend the U.S. Constitution 4-0, with Galvin abstaining.


Thank you Kathy Galvin! I could not agree more! But I fear that Council lost credibility some time ago.

As far as I can see, this council has no credibility on conscience. At least give the guy what he paid when you steal his land!

I find it personally amusing that the person condemning the ranting and raving was herself ranting and raving at the end of her 3 minutes. Kudos for practicing your 1st amendment rights but be careful you dont behave in the same manner as those that you are accusing.

Agreed, this council has no credibility.

Wow, what a screw on this guy. You know, I think if the City was planning to take the property in 2006, they should have to pay the value of the property at the time they planned to take it.

"The city is taking an easement from property owners and giving it to CenturyLink for $1," said Kleeman.

I believe that is unconsitutional - the City cannot take via emminent domain and then give to another private entity. IT MUST be used for the general public, like the road.

"We do not have a role in amending the Constitution," Galvin read from a statement noting that such activity "runs the risk of undermining our Council's credibility and runs the risk of making us look ineffectual."

Right on Kathy Galvin! I don't want war with Iran, favor legalizing pot, and would work for a grass roots campaign to get an amendment ratified against the Citizens United decision, but I voted for a city council to focus on the problems within the city borders.

"City Council voted 3-2 to take his property, with councilors Dave Norris and Dede Smith voting against the resolution." How utterly nauseating. This city is definitely about taking from the haves and giving to the have nots. The City quickly came up with $1.55M to buy land to build a low income apartment building on 4th and Preston but has willingly financially harmed a family that is working hard to take care of themselves. The City paid $450k for the old filling station on the corner of Garrett and Avon just last year in order to build public housing. The City is giving Habitat property on Elliot Avenue to build low income housing in TWO different subdivisions . I see now how it can afford to. How utterly disgusting Huja, Szakos, and Smith would vote in favor of this action. I hope they take the offered amount to court.@Caesonia, this is why it is very important for citizens to support the referendum that will amend the VA Constitution so that localities can not legally be allowed to engage in damaging privately owned property without just compensation. How utterly vile. Remember what goes around, comes around. I guarantee you, if this family had been black, the outcome would have been different. How utterly atrocious.

1) a ByPass needs to be built around the 29/250 mess that C'ville made on its own.

2) Eminent Domain has been much abused by the powerful to abuse the flyover people. Witness: Quantico (55,000 acres), the 5 extinct of Virginia's former 100 counties -- now 95, largely due to the freshwater scare at Tidewater, which is already a parking lot riddled with crime, the National Parks in VIrginia (Virginia has more parkland than any state East of the Mississippi).

If the Gov't. MUST take it, the law says that the owner is to be paid fair market value -- not tax assessed value.

Governments job is to piss people off one citizen at a time.

The city offered more than assessment. There is no reason the people should have to pay $1 million for a failed investment that the owners haven't even touched in 6 years.

"When I bought the property," says Witmer, "the consensus was [Meadow Creek] would never happen.
Translation: I made a business decision based on conventional wisdom and it was wrong.

This isn't a travesty of taking someone home, it's just a business transaction that didn't go as planned. Taking land is rare but it's for a purpose that allows the construction of a road that will benefit many. I understand arguing about the amount the landowner gets but not the fact the taking can occur.

@CvilleEye, you wrote: " How utterly disgusting Huja, Szakos, and Smith would vote in favor of this action." Small correction, Smith voted against it and Galvin voted for it. The way that Huja, Szakos and Galvin vote on local issues I would prefer they stick to votes concerning the US Constitution.

Starting to hate this little town I used to love.

Grandma used to always tell me "life is not always fair" and to just get over it and move on. The Witmer's purchased the property at almost the peak of the market and unfortunately, the market value has decreased. What if it were reversed? I'm surprised that the City hasn't adopted a policy of giving "market value" or original purchase price, whichever is HIGHEST.

I've lived in C'ville all my life, it's about time this road gets built.

Had they paid the overly high price a developer offered or thought it wat worth a few years back, how many would be complaining that this is Biscuit Run all over again? Just because some rich folks thought they would get richer in the bubble doesn't mean the government (meaning: the taxpayers) has to pay them what a developer would have overpaid years back. Market value may be higher than assessed, but should not be based on speculative deals made when everyone thought land was worth twice what it really was. I am glad my house assessment is finally getting back to reality. I am glad we aren't paying for poor speculation in the past either.

Some folks really just want to bash everything, and they bash both ways no mattter what the topic. Shows they are just angry little people with nothing to do but look out the window and complain.

Thanks Nancy Drew for catching that. As I was writing Smith's name I was seeing Galvin's face. My deep apologies to Smith.
"This isn't a travesty of taking someone home..." There are hundreds of homes for sale right now in the city. There is a scarcity of land however and for this reason "... the market value has decreased" is not true. Scarcity causes the value of undeveloped to increase unless it is owned by the City. In that case it is given away to Southern Development.
@Mom, are you saying that you would get over losing your retirement funds worth thousands of dollars or would you try to recover it? The shoe on the other foot pinches, doesn't it?
@anthony, how do you know they are rich? Is that because they could afford to buy land rather than live off of the public on welfare? Your apparent disdain leads me to believe you were once of the latter. By the way according to State law, assessments are legally required to reflect market value and not the whimsies of a local assessor.
Again, so sorry Ms. Smith.

The Citizens United decision said that money = speech. Limiting campaign contributions by corporations and the wealthy is a restriction on their freedom of speech. Basically it's opened the door to an even more corrupt political system than we already have. Kathy Galvin has taken that terrible idea one step further. She wants to deny the rights of non-Charlottesville residents to speak on Charlottesville issues but she had no problem at all taking all kinds of money from non-Charlottesville residents and corporate interests in her election campaign. To her Citizens United does not go far ENOUGH in stacking the deck in favor of the wealthy and the powerful to the detriment of the people. If you live in Albemarle, we don't want to hear your opinions, but if you are part of an Albemarle business PAC, Galvin's your gal.

They should give him 100 grand more than he paid for it. That's enough....It ain't worth a million bucks...

to those who say it is just an investment gone bad and they should just eat it, bear in mind that while they made their decision to buy at the top of the market, they are being FORCED to sell at the low. That property could well be worth 1M one day and in fact you could argue that the meadow creek parkway needing it for completion of the interchange validates their investment and has raised its value. The assessment was not made with the knowledge that it was a critical piece of property to a major development project. they should be cashing in their chips for their foresight if this was a private entity but they get screwed because the city has the ability to "take" but none of the decency to exercise it fairly. This is an abuse of eminent domain and I hope it gets national attention. World class, my **s.

The fact that the city offered him more then what the land was actually worth is pretty remarkable. If he bought the land in 2006 for 240k and it was worth a million now the city certainly would not be able to pay him what he paid in 2006. It was an investment and the investment did not pan out.

@Money trumps speech: That is the biggest load of hooey I have read in quite some time. You should change your screen name to "BS trumps brains".

He paid $407k for one acre at the high point of the local r/e market, and the City is now taking 1/2 acre for $230k.

On a per acre basis he is coming out ahead.

Why is everyone ignoring the fact that he still has 1/2 acre that has a value?

Why didn't he develop the land over the last 6 years, or at least get the proposed development approved so that the appraised value of the land would be higher than it is now?

Anthony, you are right that this is essentially a forum for complaining about whatever the city does. In addition to what you said, I find it amusing that not long ago many commenters here were up in arms about allegations that the city was artificially inflating their assessments beyond fair market value, in order to wring more tax dollars out of people. Now the city is being accused of undervaluing an assessment, because it happens to be less than it was in 2006. Do we have any evidence for this? Has anyone done an independent appraisal of this property?


The City of Charlottesville has not made a mess of 250/29, the County of Albemarle has. 250 works fine in the city, where no development is along it. The County owns the parts where thee is trouble on Pantops, and th same all along 29N.

This is not to say the City has not made a mess. But this article is about them trying to fix the COunty's mess. I don't think so.

@OldTimer:"250 works fine in the city"

Where there are grade separated interchanges.

"The Middle Mountain property was appraised at $230K..." by whom, someone hired by the City? "The family paid $407,000 for the property in 2006..." Home values may have declined since then but developable land values have increased. Look at your assessments, people. Land values and improvement (home, garage, shed, etc.) values are assessed separately. Also assessments are NOT appraisals. The family should hire its own appraiser.

Land value does not decrease....check any insurance policy- this City council should be condemned............... "we not happy until you're not happy"

United Citizen, I can point you to statements Galvin has made decrying the influence that non-City residents have in speaking about certain topics at city council meetings. Can you point me to statements Galvin has made decrying the influence that non-City residents have in donating large volumes of cash and in-kind support to city council campaigns? No you cannot. Because her campaign was the recipient of all that cash and support from outside groups, most of it from wealthy corporate interests. I just tells it like I sees it.

It's going to stay this way until you folks in the city actually get out and vote these idiots off the council. Cville just recycles the same tired "activists" every other election. What was a once great town has become a complete joke.

Vote them out and the gravy train stops.

I'm not really going to defend the city assessor's office - they engage in rather dubious practices out of convenience.

Eminent Domain is a necessary part of life, yes it's a bummer when it happens to you, but there is no reason to reward rent-seeking behavior by making the government vulnerable to monopoly extortion. Fair Market Value is appropriate, and the assessment law also specifies that property be re-assessed yearly, to track changes in FMV. I do think it's important and entirely legitimate to question the assessment - just like the boondoggle with Biscuit Run - and to check to see that the city's assessment really does represent FMV. Let's get three independent appraisals, preferably from outside companies.

What cracks me up are the "I hate government" crowd - 24/7 - who bitterly complain about government handing out money to favored folks and then complaining about "property rights" when the government refuses to pay an extortion fee to a speculator.

I'm sure these people were well aware that the notion of the Meadowcreek Parkway was out there - that there was a reasonable chance they'd get a guaranteed payoff if the parkway were built. They admit as much. They are mostly upset that they didn't get a government-backed guarantee of being paid the same amount they over-paid for the land in 2006. And please note: they've done NOTHING to improve the value of that land - it has sat idle since 2006. There is no "enhanced value", no "creative innovation" - they are simply rent-seeking. I'm sure the family is disappointed that their specu-vestor scheme didn't pay off - at taxypayer expense - but I, as a tax payer, am delighted to see that the government is looking out for citizen's interests.

So which is it anti-government, property-rights "tea" types: should or should not the government be saving taxpayers money? I thought the whole point of the Tea Partiers was to stop 'too big to fail' government bailouts of financial speculators: these people made a bad business decision, and the market is punishing them by handing them a loss. This family is taking "personal responsibility" for their "business risks". I think the anti-government crowd should be cheering, as I am, that they are getting their just desserts.

"What cracks me up are the "I hate government" crowd - 24/7 - who bitterly complain about government handing out money to favored folks and then complaining about "property rights" when the government refuses to pay an extortion fee to a speculator." Extortion?
"... they are simply rent-seeking." What rent?
@non-resident taxpayer, do you have any idea what you're talking about, or are you using this as an opportunity to badmouth commenters for your entertainment? If you do not start making sense you will eventually become ignored.

"I believe that is unconsitutional - the City cannot take via emminent domain and then give to another private entity. IT MUST be used for the general public, like the road."

Unfortunately it's NOT unconstitutional. Wish it was, but it"s not. The Supremem Court ruled that it's OK for government to do exacty that in its Kelo decision, where Connecticut took private land and turned it over to a developer for a marina. The state's argument was that they'd get more tax revenue from a marina than it would from the homes that were there. For reasons beyond me, the Supreme Court bought the argument. Ironically in that case, the marina was never built and the land sits vacant today, many years later.

"So which is it anti-government, property-rights "tea" types: should or should not the government be saving taxpayers money?" Tea Party people have never said that the government should save money by cheating people and if non-resident taxpayer thinks it is fine then that says a lot about his/her morals or lack of them: "...but I, as a tax payer, am delighted to see that the government is looking out for citizen's interests." It is not in the citizens' interests to cheat people simply because engage in capitalism. The city $450k for that small lot on the corner of Garrett and Avon in order bulldoze everything and build public housing. Since it used to be a filling station the site will need remediation. The property in question is located strategically besides a flourishing business district. I sincerely hope that the owners will go to court armed with their own appraisal.


After the deal in Conn a lot of states immediately made changes to their Constitutions and statues. Virginia made an instant change back in 2007 in itś own statutes and has gone through the process of a Consititional amendment, which, I thought had passed. Looks like it is going to be on the ballot this fall, and I was mistaken in it having passed.

I think the idea that City can sieze something and pass along to a private entity which does not necessarily have anything to do with the road would fall under the 2007 statutes. Why is CentryLink entitled to anything for free? They should be comensating the City and the City taxpayers for the land that they have taken.

Cville Eye,

I hate to say it, but non-resident does have a point. Itś a difficult and uncomfortable situation, because the ability to do much with the remaining 1/2 has diminshed and it WAS a forced sale. OTOH, the very thing nrtp refers to is one of the biggest concerns about the Consitutional Amendment - how to assess the real lost future value accurately? The ownerss might have bought the property for a future development, but they had failed as of yet to do so - probably because market conditions weren ripe - and might never truly be ripe again. I can own anythign and assign a value based on a dream I have, even a rational dream, but itś all unrealized until it happens.

What bothers me is taking the land and giving it to CenturyLink for 1$. CL owes the taxpayer.

This is the same city council that lets our city manger violate the terms of his contract by continuing to live in the county because he supposedly can't sell his house for what he paid for it. They look out for their own and their friends. They couldn't care less about anyone else.

Good point CC--while I am in agreement with what the city had to do here(get the land for the road by eminent doman and pay current FMV)--they do seem to protect their interests(getting maximum value for the taxpayer) when the market adjustment goes downwards in one case but ignore their best interests(having the city manager comply with code) in another.

If the market does not bounce back, will Jones ever have to move to the city? I am surprised they have not just quietly voted him a 'bonus' that would make up for the loss in value of his property and allow him to move. He could have always rented his current house out and rented a new home in the city--why this is ignored for this long is beyond me. A city manager should live in the jurisdiction subject to his/her authority--for lots of good reasons.

The guy purchased property that was already at risk for being taken (condemned through eminent domain) when he bought the property in 2006, didn't he? I certainly knew shortly after I moved here in '95 that was where the much talked about bypass was to go, whenever it was built. So why are we complaining about what the city did?

We need to take that $1 from Southern Development and $1 from Century Link and at least get a Jefferson $2 bill out of it, then frame it.

A coupla follow-on points:

- Kelo was not taken for a Marina - it was taken for a corporate research campus. Sadly, less than a decade later, that campus is defunct. So the New London has a vacant industrial/research park on their hands. The controversy, however, was not about all use of emminent domain - the use at question here: to build public roadways - a use which is undoubtedly public - was never in question. The controversy with Kelo is that the government was in effect forcing sale by one private owner to another - the land did not wind up as a public use space.

- @Cville Eye - you demonstrate your own profound lack of understanding of economics if you don't know what rent seeking is. I'd suggest you read a little about it. This 'calculated risk' by the family was pure land speculation: speculation that the real estate bubble would continue and they'd be able to re-sell (or actually develop it themselves) for a handsome profit OR that city would eventually have to buy them out in order to build the parkway. Well, the city is buying them out, but at the current fair market value. Again: why should taxpayers be forced to subsidize a poor business decision? Just because the city overpaid somewhere else? Do two wrongs make a right? This is truly just capitalism at work.

- On the Avon/Garrett lot: let's examine the facts, shall we? Maybe the city did overpay. That property - 405 Avon St - has traded hands a bunch in the past decade...and left a nice price history. In fact, the last 'free market' transaction prior to the city's purchase was for $850k in 2006. After that, two purchases by public entities, each for less and less money ($600k in '06 and $85k most recently)....reflecting the falling value of real estate after the speculative bubble popped. The property sold in 2003 for $430k and in 1998 for $ it kind of looks like the FMV assessment paid was in line. These are facts which are readily available from the City Assessor's office.

- Finally: on Maurice Jones - there are many aspects of his hire to be criticized, and I was critical at the time he was hired, not least of which that he does not live in the city. That should have been a disqualification for his hire. If he wanted the job badly enough, he could have bitten the bullet - it's my recollection that at least one former, long term superintendent of the city schools was in this position. I will say that he's turned out to be much better than anticipated.

I suppose these people are mad because the city is forcing the sale now, and perhaps they were holding onto some fantasy that they'd be able to 'wait until the market comes back'...but then, what? Are taxpayers supposed to pay for what ever fantasy valuation a property owner comes up with? What are you, some kind of communist/socialist?

If the city weren't building that interchange, I'd bet these foolish investors would lose even more money - who really wants to buy a house, townhouse or condo right on McIntyre? There are, fortunately a few of those with which to make valuation comparisons...and I think you'd be sad to learn those comps indicate these people are doing pretty well with the City's offer.

@WR Where there are grade separated interchanges.

Indeed, and this is why the McIntire/250/Meadowcreek intersection desperately needs a GSE. It works because the old 250 bypass ("in town") is limited access - 29N used to be just fine past K-Mart - before every "business" (strip mall) demanded and got a left-turn traffic light into their parking lot. We should use eminent domain there to do a taking - to build access roads and GSEs and make the main US-29 artery flow without intersections.

@OT What bothers me is taking the land and giving it to CenturyLink for 1$. CL owes the taxpayer.

The land is not being given to CL - the land is being used for the road - Kleeman (doing some fine lawyerin') is trying to conflate things and make it seem as if the easment is being granted over the land still owned by the Witmers for just $1. I'm not sure that's true, because I was not at this meeting, but I'm dubious. I believe that the city is giving CL an easement onto the public land the city is purchasing.

non-resident taxpayer,

It may be true that CL isn getting more than an easement off the City property. They should still have to pay market value for it. They aren the only communications provider in town.

Thanks for beating me to the point on the 250 29 thing. Short memories at work here. back in the 90ś there were to be GSEs. Thanks to Allen and a couple of long gone small business owners, we have this crud mess, while 250 rolls along.

@non-resident taxpayer, your words are contradictory to your argument. I will ignore you from now on. BTW, "rent seeking" has nothing to do with this situation.
Other people: I can not detect anyone suggesting that eminent domain is inappropriate in this case, just the compensation. Government does not use local assessments as FMV, as in the case of Biscuit run, it uses appraisals.

@Old Timer, "... how to assess the real lost future value accurately..." this is correct and that is why the value should be determined and settled in court.

"this is correct and that is why the value should be determined and settled in court."

MMmmm, I am not sure about that, because there really needs to be a consistent way of doing it. Courts aren't always the best place to determine that.

Not sure why you think non-resident has contradictory arguments. And yes, rent-seeking is going on, in a very old school classic sense. Not all rent-seeking is buying a lobbiest.

My understanding is that the owners of the property purchased with the idea of developing given possible future events via social/government activity. For example, a road with more accessibility. If nothing else they expected the location to be worth more, even if they didn't develop the land. There is nothing wrong with it perse, but it isn't the result of them actually developing the land and adding value.

Only it didn't play out and they are trying to claim the city cost them that value.

If you borrow $1 from the bank, the bank owns yer arse. If you borrow $1 million from the bank, you own the bank.

I own property, you want the property. Here is my asking price, let's negotiate...........

but no.............

I own property, you want the property. Here is my asking price, but you don't like my asking, so please so away.

but no.............

you are taking the property, and paying me what you want to pay me.

Try that with a gallon of milk or your next car...............

I agree that the buyer had ample notice that this was planned for the parkway. Planning 49 units on a 1 acre lot (they had to be on notice that 1/2 of it can't be built on as it is marked to be taken for the parkway?) I also don't think the City took the lot in order to give CL an easement for $1. Now the City buying the whole 1 acre for what they had into it, since they paid them more than 1/2 for 1/2, I think would have been a good compromise. They shouldn't be able to build 25 or so units on 1/2 acre next to parkway?

While the Parkway battle has gone on for a long time the fact is, the route for the Parkway has been there for over a decade, after they bought that land. Were they gambling that with the parkway, they could develop the 49 units? Had they gotten permits and found someone to build them and had site plans and everything? Doesn't sound like they did.

If they got 230 for half an acre, and paid 400 or so for the whole, the city did give the half the value of what they paid for the whole piece. It stinks, but they weren't chiseled on price. Just one more flipper finding reality street.

Good God. Give Witmer what he has in it. You're asking him to sell towards the bottom of the market. He's losing the ability to hang on to the parcel and recoup his investment. What's another $200K to the City? That's only half a playground.

@CvilleEye - "the city government is bad because they pay too much"..."the city government is bad because they pay too little"....who is being contradictory?

I get it: if the government does it, it must be all times and in all situations.

Please feel free to ignore me...I don't plan on stopping responding to your illogical and factually incorrect comments.

NO Witmer doesn't deserve what he has in it necessarily. It sounds to me like Witmer gambled and Witmer lost.

Why doesn't Council buy the whole lot and deed the residuals to Habitat? Maybe they think this lot is in the wrong neighborhood for Habitat housing.

You tell 'em, non-resident taxpayer!

Hold Up A Sec?????

Hold up a property owner......