On the left side of Hillcrest Road, Covenant School will negotiate with the city, but the property at right will be condemned. (Hillcrest will be the only exit out of the Birdwood neighborhood, which has prompted resident concern.)
ONLINE BONUS IMAGE: In June 2008, City Council opted for a traditional signalized diamond.
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.