NEWS- South Lawn demos: Brandon Ave's $1,000,000 winner!

Buying a Scratch Game lottery ticket isn't the only way for locals like Tiger Fuel Co. employee Donnie Ward to win a million bucks–you could also be a property owner lucky enough to be in the way of UVA's South Lawn project.

To make way for the $160 million project, several demolitions will commence this month near the intersection of Valley Road and Brandon Avenue. According to Tim Rose, CEO of the UVA Foundation–the arm of the school that handles its real estate holdings–a total of nine properties in the neighborhood are scheduled for demolition. Just last week, one of the project's contractors– R. J. Smith Construction– applied for demo permits to take down the four houses– 434 and 501 Brandon Avenue, and 408 and 502 Valley Road. "Most of them will come down this month," says Rose, "a few in June or July."

While some might mourn the loss of an old, familiar neighborhood, it probably won't be the property owners. For the right to demo these houses, the UVA Foundation paid a total of $2.8 million for the four properties, $1 million alone for 434 Brandon Avenue, a 1,813 sq/ft two-story recently accessed at $461,800, which looks in need of some repair. Comparatively, UVA got a bargain when they paid $1,500,000 for 408 Valley Road and 501 Brandon Avenue, two 2000 sq/ft houses collectively assessed at $715,200.

If you think that sounds like alot of money for a bunch of old rental properties, you'd be right. According the CAAR's MLS listing as of Monday, January 8, there is only one residential property in the 22903 zip code area for sale for $1 million or more, a 6,517 sq/ft, 7-bedroom, 7-bath Georgian mansion at 1124 Hill Top Road for $2,950,000. Closer to the South Lawn project's ground zero, there's 2312 Fontaine, a 1932 sq/ft, 4-bedroom house, going for $549,900, and a 1,500 sq/ft, 3-bedroom condo at 1800 JPA going for $449,900. Of course, it's the land UVA is after, not the fine accommodations.

Perhaps most revealing of the real estate pickle UVA finds itself in whenever seeking to expand, particularly with a high-profile project like the South Lawn, is the relatively low price they paid for 502 Valley Road, an 1886 sq/ft house purchased in 2004 for $300,000, long before most people knew when the South Lawn project would commence, if at all.

Of course, at press time, five other lucky properties owners in the neighborhood are likely negotiating similar real estate sales, prompting the question: isn't UVA getting ripped off?

In a June 2004 cover story, the Hook asked the same question shortly after the UVA Foundation paid $3.4 million for the former SunTrust Bank/Papa John's Pizza building, which had recently been assessed at $1.65 million. Why pay so much when under eminent domain laws UVA could "take" private land for a public purpose and compensate property owners only the fair-market value for the property? The answer appears to be public relations.

"You can do it," UVA spokesperson Carol Wood said of eminent domain, "but we have chosen not to. The university is careful not to use muscle." 

In addition, UVA has always been upfront about its development plans, particularly the South Lawn Project, which has made it an easy target for enterprising realtors and property owners.

"Pretty much everyone who's in the real estate development business knows that a university is interested in expanding its boundaries, so it's not unusual for them to pay more than they'd like to," said UVA Foundation CEO Rose.

Besides, as realtor Stu Rifkin pointed out, "You may think they overpaid for that piece of land, but down the road, you'll find that they've added so much value that it'll appraise that high."

Still, $1,000,000 for a rundown old two-story? Considering that kind of payout, perhaps the better question for those in the real estate game is, "Where's that East Lawn project going?"

Million dollar home? That's how much UVA paid for 434 Brandon Avenue in March 2006

1 comment

Great story. You should let architecture guru Dave McNair write news stories more often!