Still gleaming: Razor wire case heads back to court

Four years ago, Bland Circle resident Shirley Presley erected a pair of razor wire fences to keep hikers from crossing her brush pile-covered property along the Rivanna River. Today the brush pile is gone, but the razor wire remains, and Presley heads back to court early next year with her $1.5 million lawsuit against the city and the nonprofit that ran its walking trail across her property without permission.

When the Hook last reported on Presley in October 2005, her federal lawsuit had been dismissed in U.S. Western District Court in Charlottesville. Presley and her attorney, Debbie Wyatt, appealed, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her right to sue Charlottesville and the Rivanna Trails Foundation for violating her rights by effectively seizing part of her property for the trail. The suit will be heard in federal court here January 15, 2008.

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Presley has successfully stymied the city's efforts to force her to remove the wire. In 2004, Judge Robert H. Downer ruled that City Code as written– forbidding razor wire that "encloses" or "partially encloses" property– doesn't apply– even though the sharp coils stretch on two sides of her property from the embankment to the Rivanna River bluff.

Although Presley has thus far preserved her right to string a potentially lethal barrier across her property, some citizens are concerned that a wall of concertina wire 45 inches high still poses a hazard to those who can't read the large signs warning of its presence, such as small children and animals.

"The issue to me is harming innocents," says Elizabeth Petofi. "A bird, a hawk, or a squirrel can run across it, and its feet are cut off before it knows it."

In 2004, the Hook reported that at least one person and one dog had been injured by Presley's unusual barrier.

The case, according to Wyatt, isn't about Presley's right to string razor wire. "I'm defending her right to be left alone on her property," Wyatt says.

Petofi says that she was friends in college with a man who had been blinded by a bootlegger's explosive boobytrap. Such measures are illegal in many jurisdictions and have resulted in civil judgments– even for victims who were trespassing.

"I respected [Presley's] wanting to keep people off her land," says Petofi, herself a landowner who has been troubled by trespassers. Nonethess, she notes, "A landowner has certain responsibility if someone gets hurt."

City attorney Craig Brown says there have been recent discussions about settling the case before it heads back to court. "Until it's resolved," he says, "I'd better refrain from talking about razor wire."

"It will not be resolved with a trail across her property," predicts Wyatt. "It is not her desire or mine to need razor wire."

That would suit Petofi, who believes Presley is carrying the Fourth Amendment– the one assuring the right be secure in one's home– too far. "We certainly have lost all common sense when razor wire is out there," she says. "[Animals] can't exactly call 911 and say, 'I just got my legs amputated.'"

44 comments

Soapbox,

I'd be glad to follow though, but I'd really prefer that someone who already knows her do so. Justified or not, She's already demonstrated a history of being somewhat hostile towards people that have ideas about how she should manage her own property. If someone else who knows her is willing to bring these idea up to her, then I'd be more than willing to help organize folks to do the things I said above. After all, I've heard several people testify that they know her and that she's a kind and reasonable person. I'd prefer that one of those people approach her about my ideas for reasonable compromise. Besides, it'd go a long way towards proving that she really is reasonable and that the city just failed to seek compromise.

It also pretty much goes without saying though that the lawsuit would have to go, along with the razor wire. That said, I might even be cool with her keeping the razor wire while the plants were becoming established. I'm neither a member of local government, nor a member of RTF, but I do think it's in the interest of the larger community to resolve this, if such a thing is really possible.

Will this lawsuit really serve as a punitive measure to the city? As I said before, the City can legally sieze a strip of her property for the trail if they wanted to. She couldn't be suing the city right now if it wasn't her land anymore. While currently the city merely passed an ordinance to forbid razorwire, her lawsuit has helped teach officials a lesson that it would have been far more efficient to simply use eminent domain. (I suspect the only reason that they haven't is because it'd make it harder for RTF to work with landowners in the future.) Was that the message you wanted the city to get?

Besides, her case is pretty much without merit and doomed to fail. The city is well within its legal abilities to pass legislation regulating private property when it is based on environment, health or safety. The only chance she has of winning would be to show that the ordinance wasn't applied equally to all citizens (i.e show that other people have razor wire in places where it could harm children, pets, or wildlife).

Incidently, I'd love it if the City wanted to convert my backyard into a park. It'd mean I would still have public access and use of the space but not have to pay any taxes on it. That'd be fantastic. In fact, if there are officials reading this who'd like to use emminent domain to buy our backyard and convert it to a park then please give me a call. I believe the assessment value is only about $200,000 dollars, so it's a great deal!

"They already changed the map, and redirected the trail." If UVA, like the City had published a map with that individual's driveway on it, encouraging its patrons to park there, re-published the map, and then do not discourage their patrons to stop using it...
Huja and RTF published the map. I understand Huja, paved portions of the trail against the wishes of many of the RTF's members. Maybe Presley feels she needs to send a message to Huja now that he's on Council.

Cville Eye,

I'd say it is indeed a very similar situation. After all, people wouldn't take it upon themselves to park illegally in someone else's driveway if Scott Stadium wasn't having a game, right? Using the same logic applied by Presley and others, then the property owners should sue Uva for building a Stadium so close to them and then daring to use it.

You see, I'm not sure what Presley really expects to get out of this whole deal that would resolve things to her satisfaction (Of course, that 1.5 million might help console her a little...) They already changed the map, and redirected the trail. Does she want to shut down the entire trail so people won't walk near her property? Or is her aim to bankrupt RTF, so that no additional community trails can be created or maintained? Pretend you are Huja, and you just inherited this situation. What solution would you propose to settle the matter fairly?

It seems to me that there are better solutions for both of these problems than the legal system. I think the issue here is really that one (or both) sides have no interest in pursuing them.

I don't see any difference, except in elapsed time maybe, in the public's right to walk across Presley's property and their right to park in people's driveways near Scott's Stadium on game day. Is there a benefit of compromise in this instance? Yes, I know that there has been a small number of individuals who have allowed parking (one lady would leave town for those weekends and didn't care enough to protest), but that parking was not steered there by the City government with the right of seizure through eminent domain.

I should add that there ARE some very good and ethical people working for the city government. Unfortunately though, they happen to be outnumbered by yes-men, stooges, and toadies.

Time and time again, the government sorta/kinda admits mistakes. Razor Wire, Steephill, and Taking by Typo (which will also have a day in court in January)are all prime examples of this. But then, when the time comes for the city to actually do something about the buggery messes that THEY'VE created, they assume the classic 3 monkeys pose of See, Hear, and Speak No Evil. "Circle the wagons boys, here come the citizens!"

So, where's the leadership? Anyone know? It's supposed to be provided by the Mayor and City Council. They are supposed to set the standard and serve as the oversight for the city manager and staff. But sorting these issues out would take some old-fashioned brain work and accountability and, I dunno, ethics perhaps? God forbid that sort of nonsense should cut into any precious ribbon-cutting or proclamation-making time.

Same story as staff here: there ARE definitely good folks on Council, but they've been outnumbered by the intellectually lazy, glad-handing, and axe-grinding members. With the sole exception of Norris, if you're not there in Council chambers to make them feel good about themselves and their pet causes, they have no effin' use for you. And that's a fact.

Here's my criteria for determining what a "model citizen" is...

Ask yourself what the world would be like if everyone acted the same way? In this particular case, ask yourself what would have happened if no one in Charlottesville allowed the trail to cross their property and everyone installed razorwire at the boundaries of their land? Ask yourself what would happen if everyone that had a minor greivance decided to sue the city taxpayers for 1.5 Million dollars? (Keep in mind, the property in question isn't worth anywhere near that much, so any property rights lost cannot possibly be worth that much...)

So, from that perspective, no I do not consider Presley a model citizen, nor do I consider her a good community member. She's entitled to her property rights, but if everyone acted the way she did then we'd have no community trails and our children, pets and wildlife would be in constant danger from the razor wire strewn all over. Maybe that's the kind of community you'd prefer, and if so then I've got some great property you can buy in Northern Ireland...

Now I'm willing to give her the benefit of a doubt, and assume that she was pushed into this radical behaivor under the perception that there were no other options open to her. If that's true, then there are compromises that she could take to demonstrate that she's a better citizen than I have given her credit for. I'd be the first to admit that I was wrong if she did willingly seek compromise, but I'm not holding my breath either.

Lonnie, it's not about how much a piece of property is worth. While I haven't read the lawsuit, the thrust of it probably involves PUNITIVE damages. This type of damages, if awarded, discourages the city from walking all over the top of other residents and taxpayers.

I'm rooting for Presley. It's my understanding that a City employee had privately threatened the VFW with eminient domain until a Councilor intervened. If people want somewhere to walk, walk on a sideWALK that they own and stop bullying people.

Lonnie after reading your comments it's clear that you believe yourself to be some enlightened socialist. I have read your comments about Nancy Dresser on another blog, accusing her of things that were not true. Here you are doing exactly the same thing. But I was tickled to see you take someone to task for not knowing Mrs. Presley. That standard is one you haven't used in your own comments

Here you talk about Mrs. Presley's "duty" to the community. Her duties are to obey the law, pay her taxes, and very little else. Government may not compel you to by force to be more "community minded". The chance of eminent domain for a walking trail is very small. Your "why not" opens a Pandora's box of possible misuse but because you mean well I'm sure it will turn out alright.

You idea of compromise is amusing as well. If I don't want to find common ground with you then it's "my" problem? This is what property rights are all about. If you want to use part of my land that i bought and paid taxes on you must ,in most cases, get my permission. If I say no then I'm asserting my rights. You have zero "rights" to Mrs. Presley's property unless you can show some compelleing state interest to this property. Trails don't pass that test. Don't you believe that "no means no"?

Hey country guy, I never used the word "duty". In fact, I clearly stated several times that she's not obligated to allow anyone on her property. Also took no one "to task" for not knowing her. I merely suggested that if someone was to suggest a compromise then it'd be far better recieved from onr of those people that have already claimed to know her.

What I have said, is that she may be perfectly within her rights, but she's hardly a model citizen. I also did say that they city could just as easily use eminent domain to take her property as they could for a road. It may not be politically expedient, and you may find that morally objectionable, but it's still a statement of fact regarding the cities legal abilities. It's also a fact, that she's not actually suing anyone in staff or local government, she's really suing city taxpayers. I hardly think that suggesting a valid and reasonable compromise that doesn't involve a lawsuit against city taxpayers or using dangerous razor wire makes me a "Socialist".

Cville Eye, you did understand me correctly. Thanks for helping to clarify my position and offer. (Also, I tried to visit your link but it was broken.) I do agree though that the City doesn't have a good history of using eminent domain responsibly. As I said before, I hope a more reasonable solution can be found that'd benefit everyone.

The phrase "she's hardly a model citizen" immediately makes me assume Shirley Presley has some sort of criminal record or worse. I think it would pretty much qualify as libel.

Ms. Presley's loss of property rights was a direct violation of
the law .There are many reasons that she has every right to sue the city.
What happens if someone gets hurt on her property on the trail ? Do you think the city would come to her defense ?? And for some people to say
that she's hardly a model citizen just because she is defending her rights. It's sad when people want to slander someone just to fit their
agenda.

Excuse me but the way it was stated implies a lot more than you admit. It is anyone's right to state how they feel but can't we be civil about it ? And should we keep our 'eye' on the real subject ?????

I just clicked on super-blair and it worked. Pop-up blocker on? Sometimes I hold down the key. Sorry, Son, "she's hardly a model citizen" hardly qualifies for slander. A lot of, if not most, citizens would use that phrase to describe themselves.

"Ask yourself what the world would be like if everyone acted the same way?" Just because they don't act the way you think they should makes them bad. This issue isn't about that at all. Again it's property rights. Let's say the city wants to take your land and make a park. How would you feel ? Yes please do give her the benefit of a doubt. I see it as letting the city know there is a limit to pushing their agenda on people and forgetting about the rights of its citizens.

Sorry for the mispelling ! The misuse of emminent domain is a threat to our freedom.

The misuse of emminent domain is a treat to our freedom. This case stands as an example of government overreaching and constraining a fundamental liberty. Title to every property in this city and nation is now effectively clouded by the threat of a government taking it for their
any purpose it sees fit. Lonnie you can give up your land, your rights but I know I speak for many in saying we will fight it with every legal
resource available . Our founding fathers would roll over in their graves to see such complaisantly.

Lonnie,

Re: Your statement that the case is without merit.

I think you need to go back to what the article said. "...the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her right to sue Charlottesville and the Rivanna Trails Foundation for violating her rights by effectively seizing part of her property for the trail."

The point is that her property was already seized and without due process. It really doesn't matter what the law is in other countries. In other countries they jail people for naming teddy bears Mohammed. We don't, and our laws are what matter here.

While eminent domain may have it's place, there is absolutely no place for seizure of private property without due process. That seems to be what will be argued to have happened in Shirley Presley's case, and it is exactly what happened on Steephill Street. I would say that she is a model citizen for her willingness to go to great lengths to protect not only her rights, but everyone's. It is absurd to suggest that insisting that her constitutionally granted rights be respected by the city makes her anything but the most honorable and upstanding of citizens.

Mrs. Presley is under no obligation to compromise and I would argue that she shouldn't. If I were to take your property over your objections and then suggest that you compromise by just letting me have it would you relent? If so, would you mind giving your address if you respond?

I have tried to get the city to provide some evidence that it has rights of any sort to Steephill Street. I have never seen any document that would suggest there are public rights to the street. The original deed makes private ownership explicit and nothing has ever been produced that documents a transfer of ownership of that property from private to public. The City Attorney's response to a request for documentation of a change in ownership was that no document responsive to that request exists.

Somehow, although it can't document a legal property transfer, it can't or won't clarify where the bounds of what it owns are, can't say when or how it came to own what it had previously claimed was private property the city claims exclusive rights to determine what happens on the property. The city has now both explicitly claimed in writing that it owns property there and has built on the property without consulting or even informing me. Paradoxically, the city's position is still that adjoining property owners are responsible for maintaining the entire street. That means that legal liability for something that I neither wanted nor was responsible for is mine according to the city. I have in my possession a copy of an email message in which the City Attorney's secretary clearly states that the city could deny responsibility for the property if it chose to. Nowhere do they accept responsibility.

I have repeatedly asked for clarification on the matter from City Council, but they generally refuse to acknowledge that there even is a problem. The last time I mentioned the matter before Council, Kendra Hamilton either knowingly lied about the situation in response or at best demonstrated that she had never bothered to check the facts about it after I had repeatedly asked council for help and personally talked to her on the phone.

I know for a fact that on two occasions the city has failed to fully comply with FOIA requests I have made, since I have seen some of the documents that should have been given to me but weren't. That certainly doesn't make me feel like the city is generally acting lawfully and makes me wonder what else has been kept from me and why. To clarify that point, there is no record demonstrating any public rights to Steephill Street, what the city has done was most likely under the direction of a person or persons who knew full well that the city had no documented legal right to even be on that property, and the city has not been forthcoming with documents that might identify exactly who was responsible and what that person might have known. The city is also not willing to acknowledge it's mistake and rectify the situation despite significant evidence that it has acted illegally.

In my case, no substantive offer of compromise has ever been made by the city, and despite having sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution as a qualification for holding office, not one of the councilors has ever been willing to address what is clearly a gross violation of both the Virginia and U.S. Constitutions. Kevin Lynch has made a feeble gesture by suggesting that the city move to formally adopt the street for maintenance, but that ignores that the law has been violated and sanctions the seizure of my property that I never wanted. Seizure was the issue in the first place!! The city's response to me, as I have said before council, is a disgrace to the legacies of the presidents whose images adorn Charlottesville's City Hall. That is true in the Presley case as well. It is disgusting to me that Mayor Brown, who personally directed the City Attorney to not attend to the issue of Steephill Street was re-elected. The rest of City Council, precious Dave Norris included is no better.

I have little reason to believe that Shirley Presley's experience with the city has been very different than my own. The city's handling of the Timberlake-Branham issue has likewise been disgraceful. City Council could fix any of these problems, but the reaction has been the same. Deny, deny, deny, ignore and hope it all goes away.

The Department of Neighborhood Development Services has been involved in each of these situations and there are many others not mentioned here. Mismanagement, incompetence, and contempt for the public run rampant through that department. That's the real problem and until it's restructured with professional, citizen-focused management, these sorts of problems and subsequent lawsuits against the city are almost guaranteed to continue. If you don't want the city's coffers to be drained by lawsuits, then demand that City Council both resolves outstanding issues and makes the appropriate management changes to prevent them in the future.

Louis

Perhaps landmines would work better? Or, she could just do one of those cool tripwires that'd trigger a blade to decapitate the first kid or pet that stumbles on her property? As far as I'm concerned, she can can have pitbulls with razorwire collars and bees in their mouth.

After all, perhaps she is the Che Guevara of Charlottesville who will overthrow the evil government of our town and bring justice to small property owners everywhere? Or perhaps she is merely Don Quixote, jousting at windmills... I could really care less at this point, and discussing it further is probably rather pointless.

I am not saying we shouldn't build any more roads, unless they run through government owned property and you know it. That is much different because it is completely necessary to maintain adequate
transportation for everyone not just a few . Which brings up another
sore subject, The Meadowbrook Parkway. The city doesn't have a problem to take land that benefits a few but will not give its own land up to
benefit many.

I am not saying we shouldn't build any more roads, unless they run through government owned property and you know it. Which brings up another sore subject, The Meadowbrook Parkway. The city doesn't have a problem to take land that benefits a few but will not give its own land up to benefit many.

Louis,

Although I don't know all the details of your specific case, I'm a heck of alot more sympathetic to your situation. The difference here is that, as far as I know, you haven't gone out of your way to make your property dangerous to children, pets and wildlife (probably the contrary based on conversations we've had elsewhere...) I'm totally in support of the ordinace Council passed on the razor wire, as long as it applies equally to everyone. I also completely support ordinances that make neighborhoods safer. After all, this isn't an isolated property somewhere in the county. This is right in the middle of an urban area with families. Razor wire is totally inappropriate. Passing ordinances to ensure public health and safety is what governments do.

As I've said before, I also take great issue with the concept that there was "seizure" of her property by RTF or the City. That's like saying Google seized my property when they published photos of my house from space. Besides, the trail was rerouted and the map changed to clearly indicate that area was off limits. If frustrated individuals who didn't want to walk all the way around to avoid Presley's 20ft section of property on the river took matters into their own hands, then that has little to do with RTF or the City. I also believe those people should be prosecuted (and I would encourage the city police to help identify and prosecute them).

As for Presley's case being without merit. Time will settle that. Maybe she'll win, but I'd be pretty surprised. I also don't think a win for her would have quite the effect on local government that you desire...

Suppose they outlaw razor wire and instead she puts in a pit bull with an electric underground fence. That way when you go past the no trespassing and beware of dogs signs and get bitten in the ass it will be your fault.

Would that make you happy?

Stay off her lawn. If she wants to have a pile of razor wire in her backyard that is her right. If she wants to pave her backyard with broken glass that is her right.

Leave britney Alone!!!

So what you are saying is that we shouldn't build any more roads, unless they run through government owned property, correct? That's fine with me, since I've no desire as a taxpayer to further subsidize the mess they've made on 29 North.

Incidently, you'll find that property rights are treated very differently in many countries in Europe. Believe it or not, the rights of through hikers are protected by law in many Democratic countries. Not only that but some countries have laws that protect the rights of people to forage for bilberries (a kind of wild blueberry) on private land. Here in the United States we often treat property rights as it's own religion.

I'm not saying that eminent domain is the right solution here; however, I think its a rather extreme opinion to believe that it's tool that can never be used by goverment for the good of the larger community. Our protection from misuse of ordinances, and eminent domain abuse is through the vote. If you feel that council is so abusive of their power, then I certainly hope you voted to replace them in the last election.

Where I suspect we'd agree is that I think that eminent domain should never be used for profit motives or to increase tax revenue.

Lonnie

I have never understood why the Big Bad Bully City of Charlottesville thought they could run a public trial through a citizen's private property. if the case goes to a jury, please let me be on the jury. :)

Sure, Shirley Presley is best the sort of community member and neighbor that anyone could ask for... If you're a sadist.

In my understanding neither the RTF nor the City of Charlottesville built a trail across her property. There was already a trail there in use by the local neighborhood. RTF just made the mistake of not going back and checking with all the property owners before they published their map.

Frankly at this point, I've got no sympathy for Presley's loss of property rights. In fact, I think the wise thing for the city to do would simply be to sieze the property with eminent domain and write her a check. After all, if the supreme court is just fine with localities taking land to build Wal-Marts then certainly a community trail is fair game. I'd have felt differently before the razor wire and her taking a good organization like the RTF to court over it (Who has defended her right to her property on several occasions and rerouted the trail).

I suppose though that the more moderate strategy though could be the the city could offer to install a vegitative barrer that'd effectively eliminate the trail. I can think of any number of plants like devils club, honey locust, hawthorn, and others that would make would be hikers think twice without an ounce of razor wire.

It is the RESPONSIBILITY of the city to check property lines. How do you think things would be right now if she had built a driveway two feet on to city property and then said.. well it was an accident.. just get over it and be a good neighbor?

The city probably could have negotiated a deal with her before all of this crap started. Now after all she has been through I hope she wins the 1.5 million and the city learns it's lesson. It's just too bad that the people that did this to her can't be jailed for abuuse of power.

Lonnie, I don't think you could possibly be more off base on this issue. I'm shocked that you would advocate the abuse of the power of eminent domain to punish someone for having done nothing more than stand up to another abuse of power by the government. The seizure of private property by the government is a drastic step that should come only in rare circumstances where absolutely necessary and after all other reasonable alternatives have been explored, not as a way for a petty bureaucrat to settle a score.

I'm very much rooting for Shirley Presley. I'm still having to deal with a very similar issue myself. In my case the City seized and now claims that it owns part of my private property. There was no legal process, there was no compensation, and I wasn't even informed about what was happening.

Although the City claims to have the right to do as it pleases with my property, it refuses to acknowledge any responsibilities or liabilities for the property, asserting that those responsibilities are mine. The legal situation that has been forced upon me is complex, potentially very costly, unwelcome, and not in any way my fault. It's an unsettling situation, especially that it could happen in a city that celebrates its link to Thomas Jefferson and only a few feet from the path that Jefferson took to go to the city.

I have had no luck in getting any help from City Council and City Attorney Craig Brown has never made good on his offer to attempt to find a workable agreement to deal with the problem, but then, Mayor David Brown's orders to the City Attorney were for him to not look into the matter.

I'd be suing the City too, but I can't afford the legal costs I've been quoted, and I can't find anyone to represent me pro bono. I'm very glad that Shirley Presley has been able to fight back and I hope she wins.

Here's a link to more information about my problems. http://www.readthehook.com/stories/2007/04/12/NEWS-schultz-B.rtf.aspx

Hawks and squirrels and rabbits getting their legs amputated??.......put down the pipe lady. When was the last time you saw a rabbit or squirrel or any other wild animal trapped in a fence, be it chain link, barbed wire, razor wire or any other? As for dogs, well, If you are following the cities leash law you have no worries whatsoever.

The crux of this matter is that the city is completely inconsistent in how it applies its own laws. As Cville Eye mentioned, it all depends on who you are. If you're on their favorites list (if you're the "special interest group du jour" or a wealthy developer for instance) well then, it's carte blanche baby! You can play just as fast and loose with the rules as your little heart desires and staff will turn a blind eye.

The way the city is handling Steephill is yet another black mark on their quickly crumbling reputation. They've lost all credibility. And don't get me started on the majority of the counsel members-- their input extends to shrugging and blank stares. They frankly don't want to hear about anything that will upset their fantasy that we're a World Class City.

Let's hope this new bunch will be an improvement. Maybe they'll have the spine to stand up to the bumbling bureaucrats on staff.

Don't get off of that Soap Box, please. "it's carte blanche baby"

Soap Box, if you're right that no reasonable compromises were presented to Presley, and that she's doing this as a last resort, then I suppose I'm with you after all. It's true that few of us really know what has happened behind closed doors here.

You're also right that that city has a history of acting in completely unreasonable ways on other issues, as has been cited above. While I've found several city councilors to be fairly accessible and open to reasonable suggestions, it can often be torture to convice them to change even the slightest things.

So, if it's really true that this whole situation is just a failure of the city to compromise, then I'll throw one out there. I think there's enough people that'd like to see a resolution here that I'd be willing to donate my time, and perhaps some money towards a compromise solution. Ideally, a very narrow trail could be made landscaped with a vegitative barrier that simply wouldn't allow much space for the activities Presley objects to. In addition, a crew could be assembled to keep that section free of any litter that does occur, and that crew could even come out anytime with a phone call. If a trail is completely out of the question, as I suspect it may be at this point, then I'd be willing to work with others to design and install a barrier that should be just as effective and much safer than razor wire.

I would hope that the city and RTF have already put these suggestions on the table. If not, then the city may not be necessary for the community itself to find a reasonable solution.

Oh, and I agree with the liability issue too. If RTF and/or the city gain access for a trail again then they should assume some liability for normal trail hazards. I suspect this wouldn't be hard to do, but those organizations would have to answer that.

Of course, I really wonder about the current liability of the razor wire. I'm kind of surprised that neither of the people injured or affected by the razor wire so far have sued. Also, I'd suspect that if the razor wire ever does kill birds or animals that she'd be completely open to fines from VDGIF or a lawsuit from environmental organizations. I'd really think it'd be in her best interest to find a way to remove those liabilites from her property...

Cville Eye, you're quite correct about Presley's liability should injury occur. That's one of the problems with Steephill. If someone crashes through the bridge there, even if it's because the city has been negligent in maintaining it (which they insist on doing), the owners (adjacent property owners) are the ones who would be sued. So it seems logical that the city would be willing to create an ironclad document, a waiver of sorts, to make certain that this wouldn't happen, right? Nope, nothing in writing-- they don't want their feet held to the fire should something go wrong. So, sad to say, Presley is wise to not want to move in that direction.

Lonnie, your ideas are great and I hope you'll follow through. Like you, my preference would be that the trail remain as it was originally intended. If it were my property, I would have allowed the trail to cross provided the RTF assumed any liability due to damages by hikers, and that they put cautionary signs behind yards where the owners were especially worried about trespassing on the non-trail parts. But it's not my property. Or the RTF's. Or the city's.

I hope you'll contact Mrs Presley and speak with her, see what it is she's primarily upset about. Maybe we in the community can achieve something here. Perhaps a combination of mediation and mitigation would go a long way towards finding a better solution?

I've got a solution to the razor wire. I noticed there was not razor wire until the public started trespassing on Presley's land. The public should start walking or jogging or running or biking on non-private property, streets, sidewalks or in the Rivanna. Eventually, she'll probably remove the razor wire when she's convinced that she's left alone. And this solution doesn't cost anybody a dime. Charlottesville has existed over 250 years without that trail and can exist 250 more, if it would respect private property rights and forget using eminent domain to benefit a small percentage of its 40,000 residents who can find other places to walk. Between design control and eminent domain, I'm beginning to feel I exist to serve the government.

Lonnie is right in one respect. When you sue the city they have endless resources to fight you. Why do they have endless resources? Because the taxpayer is footing the bill, that's why! But even so, I also don't think this should discourage anybody with a valid claim from filing a lawsuit. I can't imagine the city blazing a trail through my back yard without at least knocking on the door and asking me if it's OK. In my particular case a trail through my back yard (which is quite large by the way) would be inside the invisible fence. And my dogs would be attacking people trespassing on their "territory". Look at the liability the city has just placed in my lap. I would have to get rid of my dogs just so the city could run a trail through my property? Not in this lifetime!

I am hearing Lonnie's saying that IF Presley is looking for a compromise and IF the City is looking for a compromise then he is volunteering to help by designing a vegetative buffer between the trail and the rest of her property. I think that's very civic-minded since most people would probably charge several thousands of dollars for that kind of advice. As for the limitations of the use of eminent domain locally this site shows some of its arbitrary history in Charlottesville: http://super-blair.blogspot.com/. It is my understanding that the VFW was threatened by a City employee several years ago with eminent domain action if they did not grant the public access acroos the back end of its property.

There you go again, stating that you are the arbiter of what is "fair" and "reasonable". The city has no compelling state interest to extend a trail. The fault in all this the city and the trails group. They never did enough to stop this from happening. The people who, like you, feel "entitled" to use private property are the criminals here. The people who tore down the simple things she put up and caused her to go to this level. Where is your outrage for those law breakers? Go to Pantops and see the razor wire in front of Wilton Farms. Then same thing happened there.

You have called Mrs. Presley a "sadist", that you have "no sympathy for Presley's loss of property rights".Now you want to pretend you have some moderate stance. Seizing property for the common good with no compelling state interest is socialist at a minimum and possible even communistic.

The city taxpayers whose fate you lament are not the one she is suing and it is misguided and just wrong to say so. It is the non-elected city officials that are costing the city money by using the power of government to prosecute one of it's citizens for asserting their property rights. If this was on the ballot and voters decided to go after Mrs. Presley then you might have a point.

"City Attorney Craig Brown is pretty frank about whether Steephill Street is private or public property. 'I don't know,' he says. 'It seems there are some inconsistencies.'" seems to be the crux of the matter explained in the link above. This is an example of how the City applies some of its laws according to the people involved as opposed to what is law. Disgraceful. If the gentleman was asking for some kind of welfare, they would jump right to it.

I think few people are arguing that Presley shouldn't have rights against trespassers on her property. I just think it's clear that she's not done a whole lot to compromise, and is then turning around and suing people. Plus, while she's not obligated to allow access for a community trail, it sure doesn't make her a good community member by standing in the way of it.

As to my eminent domain comment, mainly it was perhaps a bit of devils advocacy. That said, if we can use eminent domain to take land for roads to create more cars and development, then why not walking trails? Personally, I'd rather see more cycling and walking trails than see more roads. Truthfully though, my real point is that if the city really wanted it, then it could just take it. The fact that they haven't done so, even after being sued by her, indicates that they are seeking more moderate solutions. The fact that that Presley won't sit down with the city and come up with a more reasonable compromise that doesn't involve razor wire is proof that she's less concerned about resolving the problem and more interested in a crusade.

Also, regardless of how you feel about Presley's case, remember that suing the city only hurts city taxpayers. It doesn't affect city councilors or staff one bit. That's not justice, it's just short sighted and selfish.

Lonnie- don't know whether this applies in Presley's case or not, but in other cases the city has not offered any compromise or solution, thus making a lawsuit the ONLY course of action.

That's what happened with the Taking by Typo case. The city screwed up, hundreds of pages of documents prove they screwed up, and they even admitted they screwed up. But they have categorically refused to fix it. They actually think that they can zone through error, and that the zoning should stand! They think that due process is something that can be granted or removed at will.

Why haven't they fixed a mistake that is very easily fixable? Because they're firmly lodged in the property owner's deep pockets. They are more scared of what he and his expensive and very noisy Republican lawyer will do to them than they are in doing the right thing. So they're trying every legal trick in the book to worm their way out of this. The day that city attorney Craig Brown joined forces with private attorney Fred Payne to strip the citizens of their rights, was a dark day for Charlottesville.

If you think that the citizens involved in the Timberlake-Branham case are getting any joy (vindictive or otherwise) out of this costly, lengthy, and incredibly depressing process, then you're sorely mistaken. The lawsuit was not brought to punish anyone (council or the city). It was brought to make certain that we're ALL given due process under the law, and that includes you.

Re your statement above:
"Also, regardless of how you feel about Presley's case, remember that suing the city only hurts city taxpayers. It doesn't affect city councilors or staff one bit. That's not justice, it's just short sighted and selfish."

That's exactly the kind of statement that's made in order to quash dissent. Might as well shorten it to "Don't rock the boat." If you're angry about taxpayer money being spent on this debacle (as are we, believe me), then tell the city that they shouldn't force the citizens into the position of having to sue when mistakes can be fixed with a very simple amendment to the comp plan, AT NO COST TO ANYONE! And nobody's suing for any money, only for the city to follow their own laws.

I'm not privy to anything that went on behind the scenes with Presley's case. I have no idea what she did or didn't discuss with the city. But I do know that unfortunately the likelihood is very high that the city probably mishandled things legally multiple times over the past few years. It's just too easy to make this a happy hikers vs mean old lady thing. I'm a big fan of the RTF and the great work they do, but experience has shown me that it's rarely that simple when the city is involved.

If some walker is injured on Presley's property who pays, the City or Rivanna Trails? Don't forget, property ownership carries responsibilities as well as perks. The City has had discussions about using eminent domain on several occassions but do not want to raise the spectre of Vinegar Hill and Levy Avenue. Very bad politics still.
Presley was not looking for a cause to bring a suit. She's not a professional trouble-maker. Most people in town have never heard of her. She was there, like most of us, minding her own business when somebody saw something she had and decided to use the government to take it. I do not expect for people to cut through my property for any reason while walking and she shouldn't be expected to either. The City did not give her 5 cents to buy that property and should not be telling her how to use it beyond zoning. Everybody knows that the people of Rivanna Trails are close friends of those who are on Council and those that put them there. So they have gotten together to bully people not in their group. Plain and simple.