Zoned out: City Council talks “taking by typo”

At a June 4 City Council meeting, Councilor Dave Norris brought up the infamous "taking by typo" issue regarding the property behind the Mary Williams Senior Center in the Woolen Mills neighborhood, which may have been accidently de-listed as historic due to a series of zoning snafus. Recently, the Board of Zoning Appeals rejected a challenge by the feisty neighbors, who argued that the entire 7-acre property, owned now by scrap yard owner and BAR member Preston Coiner, and home to his Woolen Mill Self Storage facility, was designated an Individually Protected Property by City Council in 1993.

"There's some sentiment from certain quarters that Council needs to 'step up to the plate' and get involved," said Norris. "I'm curious where the issue is."
As City Attorney Craig Brown explained, any zoning mistakes that were made had been nullified by the BZA's most recent determination, which designated only a portion of the property historic, based on the city-wide zoning changes made in 2003. Council could re-zone the property if there were grounds for a historic designation, Brown said, but he cautioned members that site plans for the property had already been approved, and that such a designation would not change anything.

Councilor Kendra Hamilton said she was sympathetic to the concerns of the Woolen Mills residents, but pointed out that similar zoning mistakes had been made elsewhere, including her own neighborhood. "In simple fairness to other neighborhoods," said Hamilton, " if we're going to seek out and pursue this, we should have a consistent policy."

In the end, Councilors did not 'step up to the plate'. In fact, they even seemed at a loss for words.

"Anything anybody wants to do?" Mayor David Brown asked.

(prolonged silence)

"It's a difficult situation," mayor Brown continued. "Time has gone by, plans have changed. Plus, we were a long way removed from the original decision."


Is Mayor Brown really that ignorant about the purpose of long term planning? It's precisely because property sells and individual property owner's plans change that zoning is there in the first place. "Protected Property" says it all, or at least should have...

This situation not only sets a really awful precedent if Council doesn't act to do the right thing and fix what has been changed by "typo", if that's really how things happened, it also raises the thorny question of just why someone who sits on the BAR is opposed to its review of his own plans.

If Kendra Hamilton is aware of other example of zoning screw-ups like this, the real question is why she isn't doing actively something about the long needed overhaul of the Department of Neighborhood Development Services rather than arguing for some fuzzy notion of fairness. Chronic problems as an excuse for inaction? Let's get real here, the best way to be fair to citizens is to keep this sort of thing from happening to them!! It is amazing to me that with the level of incompetence that runs rampant through NDS that Jim Tolbert still seems secure in his job. Explain that somebody.

The only repercussions of this snafu so far have been the reassignment of Brian Haluska, who was both inexperienced and a new City employee at the time the "error" was made. All that means is that now another neighborhood, which likely doesn't know why the reassignment happened has him as a neighborhood planner, whoever should have been supervising doesn't even get a slap on the wrist, and now the Woolen Mills is saddled with Ashley Cooper's own special brand of inability to do her job effectively. Everyone loses except those responsible. Sadly, that's typical of this City and Council is largely to blame.

Again, you can not have a "typo" when there has been no attempt to type. That property is listed by address as a minor historic district in the City's code described in "Sec. 34-273. Individually protected properties." The address did not convey to the newly formed parcels; it only applies to the parcel on which the house sits. If the City had intended for the newly formed parcels to be under design control, Council would have added the addresses of the new parcels, by ordiannce, to the list found in Section 34-273. Period. No oversight. No "typo." The constant repeating of the "typo" story is not going to make it true. Since those parcels are not included, any attempt to retroactively include them by Council should be met with a law suit by the owner because a dangerous precedent could be set otherwise.
Actually, the issue of design control for those lots came up when it was proposed that storage units be built. Un-informed citizens thought that the light industrial use could be prohibited by the BAR. Wrong! The BAR is not legally empowered to make decisions about use, just limited design decisions. Citizens would gain more by not beating a dead horse but by making suggestions on how to handle the conveyance of overlay designation when parcels are subdivided.

typographical error
(typo) An error while inputting text via keyboard, made despite the fact that the user knows exactly what to type in. This usually results from the operator's inexperience at keyboarding, rushing, not paying attention, or carelessness.
The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © 1993-2007 Denis Howe

Dear Realitychecker,

Thanks for the correction on what a typo is and is not.

The issues with the "taking by typo" story are, at the minimum, two:

1) Citizens of Charlottesville never received specific notice that the historic overlay designation was being removed from over 75% of the Timberlake-Branham property.

2) Council did not consciously legislate "the removal". Council signed off on a zoning ordinance which contained the "taking by typo" "technical error". (Technical error= the list of parcels covered by the 1993 IPP designation by Council of the Timberlake-Branham site was incomplete.)

You cite Charlottesville Municipal Code 34-273. Please read one section further in the Code, section 34-274, "Additions to and deletions from districts or protected property list."

There is a process for removing a historic overlay designation, that process is outlined in section 34-274. That process was not followed in the case of the Timberlake-Branham site.

You mention:
"the issue of design control for those lots came up when it was proposed that storage units be built."

Can you be more specific? The public record doesn't indicate that design control was discussed as part of the self-storage development.

You mention the possibility of a law-suit if Council corrected this recently discovered error of omission. A suit on what grounds? The owner will not suffer any financial hardship.


Bill Emory

By the way, "ordiannce" is spelled ââ?¬Å?ordinance”

Yes, please tell us more about what happened behind the scenes when the storage facility was proposed.

It would also be extremely illustrative to everyone reading this if you would elaborate on what else the "uninformed citizens" were thinking at that time.

To read Council's 6/4/07 ââ?¬Å?taking by typo” discussion:

Audio is available as well, the quality is lamentable at the start but it improves”Š