Extreme makeover: rich edition-- State program benefits those who need it least

Ask most preservationists what they think of Virginia's Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program, and you'll hear them proudly say it's one of the most generous, if not the most generous, programs in the country, leading to the rehabilitation of thousands of historic properties. Indeed, since the program's inception in 1997, the state has awarded nearly $700 million in tax credits to homeowners and developers.

"This is free money," writes Charlottesville architect Brian Broadus, who has specialized in historic building projects for over 20 years. "Why don’t more homeowners come and grab it?"

Unlike the rehab tax credit's federal counterpart, a property does not have to be income-producing– it can be home sweet home. As long as an owner can spend more than 25 percent of the most recent assessment on restoring an old house (sorry, sweat equity doesn't count, just cash), he or she can win a 25 percent credit for the restoration's “qualifying" expenses.

What qualifies as an expense? Just about everything. Furniture and window treatments, additions, and kitchen appliances are about the only things that don't. The old house doesn't even have to be on the Virginia Landmarks Register or contribute to a historic district to qualify. If a registered architect deems it “register eligible," it's in. An owner can even paint the old house any color she wants, sell the tax credits, or sell the old house itself– and still keep the tax credits.

Understandably, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources is proud of its rehab tax credit program, which has been in place since 1997. According to a Virginia Commonwealth University study, the program– aptly called "Prosperity through Preservation"– has led to $1.5 billion in private investment that has ostensibly saved approximately 2,000 Virginia landmark buildings, created more than 10,000 jobs, and generated $46 million in state revenue.

What's more, Virginia has led the way among the 50 states in the number of historic districts and individual properties added to the national register. In 2008, Virginia ranked second overall in that category.

"I think that Virginia's rehabilitation tax credit program, like the Federal counterpart, is excellent public policy," says Broadus. "The idea is to bring a sad asset back into the open stock of buildings."

Like most things that sound too good to be true, it comes with a catch: you need to spend money to get money.  And according to records obtained from the VDHR, only 12 property owners in Charlottesville and Albemarle County have taken advantage of the program since 2005.

"The difficult issue with state and federal tax credits is that you have to spend quite a bit of money in order to benefit from them," says Eryn Brennan, an architectural historian who sits on the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review, "so this does not help the average homeowner."

For Preservation Week this year, event organizers had wanted to feature a selection of modest historic rehabs that had used the tax credit program. But according to Steven Meeks, president of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, there weren't any.

"It appears in this area only the bigger projects are applying for tax credits," Meeks says.

Indeed, of those 12 historic rehabs, only two could be described as modest, and even they cost their owners at least $100,000 or more. In fact, many of the rehabs were so extensive that the amount of tax credits the owners received were more than most people could dream of paying for a house.

Investor Robert D. Hardie, a member of the UVA Board of Visitors (he was appointed by former Gov. Tim Kaine), received over $600,000 in rehab tax credits for fixing up his home at 8 Dogwood Lane in Farmington.

That's no surprise to some.

"I'd be willing to bet that in most cases the biggest share of historic tax credits go to those who already have a lot of money and could afford to remodel or renovate on their own without taxpayers helping them," says former Albemarle teacher Mark Crockett. "In that sense, those credits constitute welfare for the rich. Pure and simple."

Crockett is no fan of the equally generous state conservation easement tax credit program either, which rewards mostly wealthy landowners for preserving open space, even if you were an investor in, say, Biscuit Run hoping to turn a profit on a massive development, but later decided to "donate" the land to the state for use as a park when the real estate market went south, collecting million in state tax credits in the process.

Crockett has called that program "socialized capitalism for the rich" and  points out that roughly 60 percent of the land in the County is also under a local land use program, the Land Use Valuation program, which reduces the amount of local taxes landowners must pay. 

But whoa! Welfare for the rich? Asked to respond to that characterization of the historic tax credit program, Hardie's wife, Molly, who secured a historic eligibility designation of the couple's house (designed by a relatively unknown architect named Marshall Swain Wells, who, according to the survey,
was "deserving of more than a passing note.") from the VDHR in 2009, declined to comment.

Brennan, however, thinks it's overly simplistic to say that the program benefits only the rich. Technically, it's available to everyone, she points out, and it has helped to restore public treasures like the Paramount Theater.

"Renovating historic properties has a community benefit and value for both adjacent neighbors and the larger community," she says.

Still, Crocket notes and VDHR officials confirm that homeowners like the Hardies bear no obligation to open their supposedly historic homes for community scrutiny, despite the community tax subsidy support.

Of course, others think it's simply naive to expect tax credit programs to be "fair."

"When government offers tax credits, it's always the rich who take advantage," says political activist Randolph Byrd. "Want it to be fair? Then do away with all tax credits. The way it is now, it's not a sin; it's just the way the government set it up."

Still, if the purpose of the program is to encourage the preservation of historic structures, creating hurdles for typical homeowners to participate seems to run counter to the spirit of equal opportunity.

Rehab credit fan Broadus admits that navigating the process can be confusing and requires paperwork to demonstrate compliance with the standards imposed by the Virginia Historic Resources Department. Rich folks can hire lawyers or accountants to help handle such matters.

For instance, the most modest rehab on the local list, the renovation of the Nimmo House on Hartman's Mill Road, wouldn't have received historic tax credits if Preservation Piedmont hadn't stepped in to help the owners by surveying the historic property, guiding the owners through the application process, providing a grant for legal fees, and even helping them find a contractor willing to take on the historic renovation.

Ironically, the couple who owned the dilapidated structure had purchased it for the land (it cost a mere $18,000 in 1994), on which they hoped to build a house for their daughter. But their application for a demolition permit was denied because the building was one of a handful of historic residential properties individually protected by city preservation ordinance.

In fact, it was Preservation Piedmont that emerged to oppose the demolition. The couple said they did not have the means to renovate the old structure, an unusual Gothic Revival house built in 1870 by an enterprising carpenter named James D. Nimmo. So they decided to put the house on the market. Under Charlottesville ordinance, if they didn't get a buyer within a year, they would be allowed to demolish.

Today, the house stands beautifully restored (by Lithic Construction), after the couple received nearly $25,000 in historic tax credits.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many other historic houses in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, including the Compton House at 124 Maury Avenue, more commonly known as Beta House, now home to the Jefferson Scholars Foundation.

Like the couple on Hartman's Mill Road, Foundation executives had not purchased the property to save the house– a Eugene Bradbury-designed residence-turned-fraternity. Because it was unprotected by law, they didn't have to.

Considering the fact that the Foundation amassed $21 million to spend on the new headquarters, it might have netted a bundle of historic tax credits by going that route. The demo was a blow to the preservation community, and prompted the city to develop regulations that have strengthened oversight of historic properties.

Indeed, some think regulations, not tax credits, are the way to really preserve our stock of historic structures. While the 12 local properties were rehabilitated under the rehab tax credit program in the last five years, seven times that many have been lost.

As Mary Joy Scala, the city's preservation planner, told City Councilors after the Compton house affair, "A successful historic preservation program must rely on regulation to prevent worst-case scenarios like destruction of the Beta House."

The Historic Resources Department reports that over 50 significantly historic properties have been demolished since the mid-1970s, a trend that has picked up in recent years. According to photo-documentation from historic resources staff, since 2004, demolition of over 50 historic or potentially historic structures has occurred in the County– where policies to prevent it are virtually non-existent– and over 26 in the City.

In the City's Fifeville district alone, seventeen 100-plus-year-old properties have been demolished since 2006, including two in January of this year. Some notable losses include the Frank Ix building, the Terrace Theater, Belmont Hall, and the Charlottesville Lumber building on Avon Street.

In surrounding Albemarle County, notable losses include several turn-of-the-nineteenth-century houses in the Free State Community on Rio Road, one of the earliest free black communities in the state, and the place where Sally Hemings' sister Critta was supposed to have lived (the former Community is now the site of the Dunlora and Belvedere developments).

Looking at photos of historic structures that County preservation staff have manged to collect, a reporter is struck by the beauty of some of the places, like a 1920s farmhouse on Wildon Grove Road, or the old Town & Country Motel, an icon of popular roadside architecture and one of local architect Stanislaw Makielski's last designs.

Unfortunately, Broadus says, there's no political will to simplify the process of obtaining rehab tax credits because of a fear among cultural resource professionals that the credit might be removed or reduced.

Indeed, the state of Virginia loves its Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program so much that officials have been shaken by a March 2011 4th U.S. Circuit Court decision concerning the program. In that complicated case, the court ruled that the IRS was correct in arguing that the tax credits investors received were income and should be taxed as such. (The Virginia program allows developers/property owners to form investment partnerships for a rehabilitation project for which they receive tax credits worth more than the dollar amounts of their investments, essentially a fixed rate of return.) As the court pointed out, the arrangement allowed investors to avoid "true entrepreneurial risk."

State officials claim the tax credit program is now "under siege" and that the court ruling has "created a firestorm" in the business and preservation communities by having a "paralyzing effect" on existing and new projects; i.e. investors will be less inclined to invest if they have to report their tax credits as income. In fact, as the numbers have already suggested, preservation is big business in Virginia.

"I have heard from people all over the country regarding the decision,” said DHR Director Kathleen Kilpatrick. “It is damaging here and also in other states. It will have a profoundly chilling effect on investment in historic rehabilitation and thus on our ability to achieve our policy goals for stewardship in Virginia.”

In other words, no more "free money" for investors.

Of course, the program itself created a firestorm recently when a Richmond developer was found to be stealing millions from investors and taxpayers through the program. Justin Glynn French– recently sentenced to 16 years in jail– inflated the rehabilitation costs of his projects, thereby receiving unwarranted tax credits, which he turned around and sold to investors.

Still, you don't have to commit fraud to make a killing in the rehab tax credit game. You just need to have made a killing already: the list of 12 rehab tax credit recipients reads like a who's who of the local rich and powerful. In addition to the Hardies, Biscuit Run investor Coran Capshaw, who, along with fellow investor Hunter Craig, received millions in conservation tax credits for donating the failed development to the state for use as a park, received nearly $100,000 in tax credits to spruce up his Seven Oaks estate.

L.F. Payne, the former Fifth District congressman who was the first to inform former Gov. Tim Kaine of Craig and Capshaw's desire to donate the Biscuit Run property, received nearly $200,000 in rehab tax credits for his home at 2447 Ivy Road. (As husband of Susan Payne, Craig’s PR representative and fellow board member at Virginia National Bank, L.F. was in a unique position to suggest the deal.)

Octagon Partners, the development group that built the Gleason condominiums, received nearly $900,000 in rehab tax credits for renovating the Hardware Store building on the Downtown Mall.

In addition, four of the 12 properties went up for sale or lease after receiving rehab credits, including the William Hall Goodwin House on Rugby Road, a Eugene Bradley-designed residence whose owners, hedge fund manager Kevin Sidders and his wife Beverly, received $463,000 in rehab tax credits and then sold the house for $4 million last year. Over in Greenwood, the owners of Blue Ridge Farm, a 12,000-square-foot private estate, received nearly $200,000 for rehabilitating a show barn and an ice house.

The owners of two historic Court Square office buildings currently for lease, who received nearly $300,000 in state tax credits, also tout the program in advertisements for the space. Further south, rehab tax credits are used as a selling point for Monticola, a Greek Revival mansion in Howardsville currently on the market for $2.9 million, whose owner received $266,552 in taxpayer money. In all, local owners have reaped $3.1 million in just the past five years.

While there's no doubt that 12 beautiful properties have been preserved thanks to the program, was it worth the $3.1 million?

"The bottom line is still that other taxpayers are subsidizing these renovations," says Crockett. "And what do they get out of it? They don't get to use the homes. I guess, like conservation easements and the county land use tax subsidy program, people can drive by and enjoy the view."

CORRECTION: An earlier online version of this story referred to the ACE (Acquisition of Conservation Easements) program, which is specifically designed to prohibit development and protect natural resources, but it should have been the Land Use Valuation program.


So this is why there's no money to give state workers raises for 5 years--wealthy people needed to remodel their homes. Politicians are 50 times richer on average than other Americans--we must stop electing these douche bags, no matter what party they're in.

I agree with you 110%. The problem is you have to be rich to run for office...any office. Look what happened with Jeff Clark. I don't know what the answer is. Maybe an "American Spring" ??

"Over in Greenwood, the owners of Blue Ridge Farm, a 12,000-square-foot private estate, received nearly $200,000 for rehabilitating a show barn and an ice house."

Not that it matters but THAT gets my knickers in a twist (as does the rest of the article). Yes, the horse business is a > $1 billion industry in Virginia, but $200K for a HORSE barn.

Okay, lets say that someone working on that barn makes $40K per year (probably quite high an estimate but whatever). In looking at my latest pay stub it appears Virginia income tax is in the neighborhood of 4.25%. So that means 40K times 4.25% = $1700 per year in Virginia income tax. Divide that into 200K and you get 117.6 (something). Somehow I doubt that 117 people worked on that barn for a year. I know there was sales tax on the materials used (of course an argument could be made that contractors are tax exempt). Taxes paid on labor to produce the materials but much of that would be distributed among many other states (if even in the US).

Yes the argument can be made that the wages paid to those workers helped the overall economy but this still get my knickers in a BIG twist. Most middle class Americans are mostly working just to eat and make a house payment so I don't see them being able to spend any money in order to receive this tax benefit. So, as the article alludes to, this is nothing but yet more welfare for the rich. But hey, there is that trickle down theory - yeah right.

"Indeed, some think regulations, not tax credits, are the way to really preserve our stock of historic structures. While the 12 local properties were rehabilitated under the rehab tax credit program in the last five years, seven times that many have been lost"

If the Government wants to regulate someones right to preserve or not preserve a home that is "eminent domain" and the government needs to pay. They either need ot allow people to bulldoze what they bought and paid for or offer an incentive not to.

This program needs simplifying and transparancy but is nessasary under the law if we want to have old houses around. forever.

The article should have been more forthcoming with numbers and how much people recieved as a ratio to their own spending.


I tend to agree with you. And considering the cost of some of the tax breaks, the tax payer would do just as well to buy these properties out.

You made a mistake in the paragraph where you said: "roughly 60 percent of the land in the County is also under a local land use program, the ACE (Acquisition of Conservation Easements) program, which reduces the amount of local taxes landowners must pay."

I believe you've mixed up two very different programs. One, ACE, is a Purchase of Development Rights program which prohibits future subdivision and provides for resource protection, and the other, Land Use Valuation, does not prohibit subdivision nor does it place any real protections for natural resources. Also, under land use, you can leave the program at will, and you only have to pay back taxes for five years. Land use causes the county to tax the property at a lower rate than what it pays the city, meaning that not only is it lost tax revenue but they also lose money on each property in the program. In contrast, ACE saves money because it is future infrastructure that need not be built and money no longer owed via revenue sharing. Plus as a PDR program (as opposed to a donation of development rights), tax credits may not apply, although the property owner does a permanant reduction in property taxes.

It's worth noting that Biscuit Run was receiving Land Use for many many years, and was still ultimately developed. If it had been under ACE, then there would have been no development to collapse and be donated to the State nor countless taxpayer dollars wasted on a property, some of which is still going to be developed. I believe was proposed at one point by Slutzky that no property in the growth area should qualify for Land Use Valuation, but that was shot down. Speaking just for myself, I think it'd be a good common sense rule to be reconsidered.

Robert Hardie's application to get tax credits reads like a comedy. It is amazing that an affluent person feels no remorse in taking money for renovating a multimillion dollar estate.

I think the key to this issue is to understand what the recent 4th Circuit case actually said. There are many small businesses who benefit greatly from this tax credit, not just rich homeowners. These businesses, however, often do not have such a large tax liability that they can use all the credits, so they sell the credits to investor partnerships on the cheap. The investor partnerships then sell the credits to people who need to offset their state tax liabilities. The investor partnerships make a profit on this sale. The IRS simply said that if the investor partnerships are going to be selling these credits at a profit, they have income which needs to be reported on their Federal tax returns.

The investor partnerships are just trying to avoid paying taxes on the profits they make from buying and selling these tax credits. The small businesses (or the wealthy people) who actually do the historic rehabilitation are not affected. They still can get the tax credits and sell them, but the court said that the investor partnerships are not true partnerships for the people buying the tax credits. That means that the investor partnerships have taxable income to the Federal government and must pay taxes on that income, just like the small businesses must pay taxes on their income.

It's not the rich people who take advantage of tax credits who offend me. It's the people who buy up tax credits after doing no work on the rehabilitation, sell the credits, make millions, and then act like the whole historic preservation system will fall apart if they are forced to pay taxes on the millions they make. The investor partnerships are still free to act like they are the people actually making historic preservation possible. They just need to pay federal taxes on all the money they make while pretending to care about historic rehabilitation.

@PW thanks for this info . Appears from your explanation that in this case the courts are protecting the people of the Commonwealth and not wealthy investors.

Historic buildings lost are historic buildings lost forever. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water (well maybe a rich baby or two). You need strong incentives to remodel and preserve historic structures. We'll all be living in places that look like Hollymead Town Center and forget what life can also look like.

Give me a break...this is a fleecing of the tax payers of Virginia. The very notion that owners of a Farmington estate received more than half a million dollars in tax breaks to renovate their personal home is a travesty. Perhaps they should open up their home to the public one day per week.

This is just utterly disgusting! Helping to renovate wealthy peoples homes that aren't even open to the public? I can understand the Paramount for the fact that it is a public venue, however this is just sad when the rich get renovations when teachers get laid off and the poor cannot even afford to run thier airconditioners! What a waste, just goes to show the public servants elected to office just help thier donaters more than the general public!

The program in essence is a rough partnership between private ownership and state to retain the rich heritage of Virginia . The public seed money benefits all in the overall scheme of things by spreading capital around and circulating it while the restoration is taking place and benefiting the story of a special area of North America . These buildings last longer than people the continunity and stability provide economic and social benefits . Well off folks are generally responsable stewarts of a nations treasures . They are also ingenious at getting revenue streams taped from both private and public sources . This is a good program if it has the end result of restoring and retaining the great works of prior generatons hard work . Those who feel left out of the program and wish to be included need only to organize their situation individually or in groups so they would be eledgible to participate .

"You need strong incentives to remodel and preserve historic structures." Probably unfortunately, in Europe the preservation of many small and moderate-sized towns are required by law. While attracting a lot of tourists maybe, it certainly has caused many towns to provide a way of life resembling midieval times.

Many people are tering homes such as those in Fifeville because people tend to prefer open space floor plans which are not historic and therefore the renovations do not qualify for historic preservation tax credits.

Most of the houses deleted from Fifeville's historic fabric in the last decade were razed for development projects subsequently shut down by the recession. Those projects differed in various ways but had in common outsized footprints and volume that would have left precious little open space in an already densely packed landscape. Ironically, the destruction wrought by so many demolitions has left too much open space where houses ought to be.

As for interior open space plans, no preservation regulation affects any such thing unless an applicant is applying specifically for support of interior renovation. That is, a property owner applying for tax credit support for exterior work must conform to strict preservation guidelines only in respect to that exterior work. Inside, that owner can knock out all the walls he or she wants -- unless, of course, the law of gravity prohibits..

Otherwise, this whole discussion reminds me of many a conversation I had with the late, very much lamented Bill Stevens (William Temple Stevens, principal in Stevens & Co. Realtors). We both loved Virginia, its history, and its built heritage. We both wanted to see that heritage preserved. But we differed mightily on how to ensure that preservation.

Bill's plan was simple. Find a bedraggled property with good bones and a story to tell, advertise appropriately, and sell it to a rich buyer who would hire Milton Grigg to make it solid and stately again (albeit with all modern coveniences inside). I, on the other hand, supported ordinances and incentives.

I do not, however, support what the law of unintended consequences has made of those incentives in recent years. They have become yet another way that those with means can further profit at public expensive, yet another way a human value (the preservation of heritage) can be turned into a commodity. It seems to me that substituting outright grants -- means-tested grants -- for tax credits would go a long way to righting the obvious wrongs here. History belongs to everyone. The opportunity to preserve smaller and humbler, though not less important, pieces of it should belong to everyone, too.

Ms Rhodes, your comments on this issue are spot on. As I'm sure you're aware, an opening on the Planning Commission has just been announced. It's now a good time to begin a robust dialog about where we want to go as a city.

Regarding interior rehabs, there are many historic homes in Cville, both small and large, that have modern open floor plans.

What I find tragic is that so many of our modest historic structures have been razed to be replaced by developments that are shoddy or ugly, or developments that have never occurred at all. A particularly egregious example in recent years was the demolition of two houses on Dale Ave, outlined in this excellent article. http://www.readthehook.com/82334/onarchitecture-belmont-hall-beta-house-... The developer responsible is possibly running for Council, so caveat emptor.

The affluent can do a service by restoring these houses if they chose. However, the commonwealth should not be paying substantial parts of the bill for excessive living.

Let\'s keep in mind that these excessive wealthy people chose to live extravagantly and are not restoring these homes for the enjoyment of the tax paying citizens or the preservation of Virginia. They are doing restoring multi-million dollar homes for their own pleasure and enjoyment.


You caught my sentiments exactly. These are private homes. I spent a great deal of time renovating my own private residence, over the course of many years because it was where I wanted to live. These homes are not open to the public.

I am glad a lot of this is finally getting attention, as we hear tons of cries from our Congressional Reps and Senators to cut entitlements, yet all we hear is how we need to cut into medicare or SS which the working public has paid for. We never hear about these sorts of tax cuts, which are NOT paid for.

@ Richy Rich...great point, well thought out. You might want to have that mouse button looked at...

Small is Enough:

Thank you for what you said about what I said. But about what else you said:..

Given the trends in Planning Commission appointments and behaviors over the last decade or so, "a robust dialogue about where we want to go as a city" isn't likely to break out any time soon. Indeed, those trends have gone a long way toward quashing even basic debate on the issues that arise one by one. (Have you noticed that members of the public who speak before PC are now not only limited to three minutes, but also have to endure an arrogant, insulting, distracting, and just plain rude 15-second warning from the Chairman?)

More and more, Planning Commissioners are selected as though they were being hired for professional openings rather than being appointed to stand in for their fellow citizens. As a result, more and more those who are appointed have professional interests in how existing rules are applied and how new rules are made. Specifically, they have professional interests in more new structures being built with fewer restrictions and according to their own tastes and theories. That being the case, they are more and more dismissive of mere citizens who do not share their professional goals, tastes, and theories.

That's why, of course, PC saw fit to "review" the critical slopes ordinance enacted barely four years earlier after a great deal of public involvement and a great deal of public consensus. The public made it clear that steep slopes should be protected. Since then, Planning Commissioners have made it clear via a stunning number of steep-slope waivers that they do not agree. Commissioner Rosensweig, a self-interested member of the ever larger and more powerful and more affluent capital-letter Affordable Housing Industry, actually opined that not all steep slopes are deserving of protection, i.e. that intended purpose could and should trump physics. Never mind that not even the mighty Charlottesville Planning Commission can waive the Law of Gravity, to which water always conforms.

Even though Planning Commissioners are being selected like professionals for hire, however, they are not subject to the restraints that a public employee would be. Nor,although they wield considerable political power, are they subject to the restraints that an elected official would be. They cannot be fired by the City. They cannot be recalled or voted out by the citizens.

Considering that the single most uttered phrase at PC meetings is, "We'd like to see..." and that those who repeat it can in fact enforce their likes, I think we're at a pretty scary point vis a vis where we're going as a city.

Well said Antoinette. Please apply for the opening on the PC now available with the chairperson, Jason Pearson's departure. We desperately need a citizen advocate like Bill Emory and John Santoski to provide balance to that board.


Thank you for the supportive thought, but I won't be applying.

For one thing, as I've said before when being encouraged to do such things, I am physically and psychologically incapable of participating in night meetings that can and do run into the next morning.

For another thing, there wouldn't be a snowball's chance in Hadensville in July of my being appointed if I did apply. I applied for a couple of appointive posts -- posts for which I was particularly well qualified -- some years ago. In one case, it was for a neighborhood task force during the year-long preliminary phase of which I had been the only citizen of any address who had showed up for every single meeting and activity, filled out every questionaire, etc. But I was rejected in favor of, among others, a developer's longtime business partner who had moved to the county during the white flight of the '60s and a "neighbor" who had already moved his business to the county, intended to move his residence there shortly, and who had not even applied.

That all happened under the auspices of a City Councilor who was about to be Mayor. More recently, I've been evaluated by two more Mayors. One, in the course of a City Council meeting, labeled neighborhood initiatives of which I was a prime mover "dysfunctional" Another, in a public forum, labelled me personally "negative and destructive."

But of course I agree with you completely that we desperately need not just one but more citizen advocates on PC. Planning Commissioners are supposed to reflect the community and apply consistently and disinterestedly rules that the community has made. They are not supposed to impose on the community their personal and/or professional goals, tastes, theories, schemes, or anything else. I was very, very sorry when Bill Emory resigned. His was an immensely valuable voice and perspective.

We need to elect City Councilors that reflect the interests of the citizens and not the development community.

We need to stop paying for farmington and rugby road elite to live in million dollar mansions. The out of touch elite that get tax credits while unemployment increases and educational programs suffer from reduced funding reaks of financial injustice.

Because the exterior renovations of old houses are far less costly than the interior renovations of publing, heaating, kitchens and baths, staircases and windows, most people renovation these homes obviously do not feel it worth their time to apply for tax credits just for exterior renovations.

Bill Marshall,

The article states that the tax credits received amounts to 25 percent of the eligible rehabilitation costs...not too hard to figure out from there how much people received as a ratio to their own spending.

8 Dogwood Lane built 1941 is an example of 15 of the homes in Farmington Wells d 1974 designed. These 1940s homes are so historic, that was 70 years ago people, ancient times we are talking about... and there are only 15 houses designed by Wells d 1974 in Farmington. All 15 deserve 600,000 each to preserve them, that will only be 9 million in tax credits to do the other 14.

Dave McNair wrote:
"The article states that the tax credits received amounts to 25 percent of the eligible rehabilitation costs...not too hard to figure out from there how much people received as a ratio to their own spending."

So that means those people spent $800,000 to "renovate" a fricking horse barn. I understand that it is their money and they are free to spend it how they wish but it just infuriates me that taxpayers funded 1/4 of the job.

Does it infuriate anyone else?

The Hardies Farmington house is about as historic as many old Charlottesville homes. They did not deserve more than 600 thousand dollars in tax credits to perform a multimillion dollar renovation of their personal Farmington estate.

However, such people are out of touch with reality.
People like this feel as though they deserve the money of Virginia tax payers most of whom will never have $600,000 in their lives.

The article is very one sided and does not at all represent the benefits of historic tax credits. The author should educate himself and the readers can develop a better understanding:


Monica thank you for that link.

See you at the Farmington country club for tea tomorrow.

Monica all programs like this start out well intentioned.

The reporter is calling attention to abuses to the system. You will note that Ms Hardie had a chance to tell her side of the story but chose not too. What a pity.

What an interesting comment by Randolph Byrd, who said "When government offers tax credits, it's always the rich who take advantage. Want it to be fair? Then do away with all tax credits. The way it is now, it's not a sin; it's just the way the government set it up."

So, Byrd acknowledges that taxpayers are subsidizing the wealthy through historic preservation tax credits, just as the taxpayers have done with Republican supply-side economic policies, and just as Albemarle county taxpayers continue to subsidize big land owners through the county's land use tax subsidy program (which is simply adored by conservative Republicans like Ken Boyd).

Monica Lynch writes to complain that the story is one-sided, and she offers up a link to the "merits" of historic preservation tax credits written by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to "prove" it. But, the VDHR explanation of tax credit "merits" is a one-sided document that says not one word about how utilizes the credits and what the cots to taxpayers is.

Monica Lynch has some experience with tax credits and historic properties, much of it in converting these properties into commercial and "high end" or "premium" rental units. In other words she works with developers to help plan and restore older properties (a former cigar factory, for example, or a former ice warehouse), with taxpayer subsidies, for private commercial gain. I suppose one can argue the pros and cons of such arrangements, but the fact is that the taxpayer subsidies go to private profit.

Here is the National Register of Historic Places application for a cigar factory in Norfolk, VA. Scroll through the application and see if you can discern who the "current owner" and developer of the property is (it's at #11).


Here's another example. In this case the owner of the Virginia Ice & Freezing Corporation Cold Storage Warehouse (at Riverview and Southampton avenues in Norfolk) sought historic status in his plan to sell the warehouse for conversion to "high end rental units" (Monica Lynch's words) complete with rooftop pool. The owner of the company, Paul Battaglia of Riverview Realty Corporation, shut down the company last year. When queried about the closing and the loss of jobs and the sale of the building to developers (who are seeking funding insured by the Department of Housing and Urban Development...not to mention the tax credits), Battaglia told a reporter for the Virginian-Pilot, "I really don't want to discuss it. It's a personal matter."

Perhaps the 4th Circuit Court ruling that " tax credits investors received were income and should be taxed as such" should, indeed, shake up those who use (and abuse) them. As reporter Dave McNair pointed out, the 4th Circuit decision said that the tax credit "arrangement allowed investors to avoid 'true entrepreneurial risk'."

Oops. The last sentence of the third paragraph (above) should read:

"But, the VDHR explanation of tax credit "merits" is a one-sided document that says not one word about WHO utilizes the credits and what the COST to taxpayers is.

so if a poor person gets food stamps section 8 free school lunches free Schip medical care and erned income tax credits are they "taking advantage" or abusing the system or are they "entitled"

Every level has its tax breaks.. The diffeence is that at least the rich pay someting in to get something back.

I own an 1895 Victorian in Fifeville and need to replace the existing metal roof. I could replace it with an asphalt shingle roof for half what a new metal roof will cost. However we choose to go back with a metal roof to preserve the character of the house. I looked into the tax credits, but was amazed to find out I'd have to spend 25% of the assessed value to get any help.
We'll find a way to borrow the money and get the metal roof, but another homeowner might have opted for shingles. Clearly this program is not helping those who could use it most.


Thank you for being willing to make the extra effort to do the right thing.

We empathize. Our Oak Street house (NOT in Fifeville, but next door to Fifeville) -- built before 1853 and enlarged about 1883 -- needs considerable exterior work including a new metal roof on the rear extension. (We sprang for one on the front 10 years ago when we found an independent country roofer who gave us a price we could manage, then let us lower the bill further by doing the clean up and such ourselves.) But 25 precent of our absurd current assessment would be almost double what our house actually cost us -- which is to say, more than we could possibly muster.

As you say, "Clearly this program is not helping those who could use it most." And grotesque overassessments aggravate the problem.

Mr Marshall

The rich are not entitled to live in subsidized 5 million dollar mansions. Thank god mother Theresa did not share your disdain for the poor and downtrodden.

Albemarle's marraige bonds/licenses dating back to 1790s are falling apart (not all but quite a few) some torn in half sitting in folders. Albemarle still has its old Chancery cases going back to the 1890s folded and stuffed in metal drawers etc. Va spends $600,000 to restore a 1941 house at Farmington and lets it old Court records rot at the Court house. Pretty Poor preservation

Bill marshall

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have come to realize the obligation to better society. Farmington mansion restoration does not do that.

@Sam: You are correct about that. The way Albemarle County treats its records is scandalous. I've been in there many times to see torn pages from 19th century deed books on the floor with footprints all over them. The books themselves are piled up haphazardly. Albemarle County should be ashamed of itself.

Sam and Small is Enough note the deplorable conditions of Albemarle County's historic records...and yet, Albemarle doles out $20 million a year in tax relief to its biggest, and mostly wealthiest, landowners through the land use tax subsidy program.

And, of course, their are the tax credits that the wealth can take for "historic" preservation, and "conservation" easements...this article leads off with a picture of Blue Ridge Farms, and reporter Dave McNair notes that "the owners of Blue Ridge Farm, a 12,000-square-foot private estate, received nearly $200,000 for rehabilitating a show barn and an ice house."

Here's the county land records site:


Under name of owner just follow the directions and enter the name(s) of the owner of Blue Ridge Farms, and then peruse the various properties listed (there are six). At the top of the listing for each property is a "Now Showing" box, and the first piece of information is a summary of the property. Other categories include "land value information," "improvements," "assessments," and more.

Notice that for five of the six properties, there is a conservation easement. Here's what the Virginia Outdoors Foundation says about the tax benefits of conservation easements:


And her is some of what the Outdoors Foundation says about the public "benefits" of such easements:

* "Open-space easements allow land to continue to be privately owned but restricted to serve and protect land for the public good."

* "An open-space easement is a legal document made between a landowner and a public body, such as the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. The easement limits present and future property development rights. It allows you to live on the property and use it for its traditional use..."

* "A gift of a qualified open-space easement in perpetuity may qualify as a non-cash charitable gift which may yield a deduction for federal income tax purposes and a credit for state income tax purposes. In addition, there may be local property tax reductions and federal estate tax exemptions."

One way to look at this is if you buy an expensive, landed estate, and you want to get a tax exemption on it (perhaps even if zoning regulations prohibit development), there's a way to do it.

It is difficult to believe that any person with a reasonable moral compass would find tax credits of hundreds of thousands of dollars for private residences to be acceptable use of state funds.

This is a loophole that needs to be closed. Moreover, those who cheated the system should return the money or make a charitable gift to the commonwealth.

This was good investigative journalism to expose those among us who bilk the system.

"Thank god mother Theresa did not share your disdain for the poor and downtrodden." Did she campaign for government run entitlement programs? I didn't detect any disdain in his statement for the "poor and downtrodded." BTW, who are the "poor and downtrodden" and how do they qualify to be labeled so?

Albemarle/Charlottesville could have funded a preservation position at the Court house say $40K a year plus actually funding their pension (which Va. doesn't do) and bought supplies all for say 60 K a year and funded this position for 10 years rather than using 600K in tax credits to fund restoration of a 1941 house in Farmington (one of 15 done by the architect). Charlottesville destroyed it old Maplewood Cemetery book, (by rumour) threw out all its old building permits dating back to 1880s. Its old marraige bonds, their perserve policy is don't make copies don't digitize them just get a cardboard box, put them in it and shipp them to the Va. State Library. Albemarle for its part uses the same policy: get a box, Fed Ex label, and ship to Va. State Libary, (except if it is a will book or deed book) then first let the DAR restore it and then if no choice fix it. Back in the 1970s Albemarle sent its old Chancery cases to Va. State libarary. They still are not available on line. The chancery cases Albemarle still have may have ended in the 1890s but some date back to 1850s. (There are slave lists and a civil war slave rent out book in the oldest case still at the Court house) If Albemarle does not put all its old marraige licenses/ bonds in preservation plastic soon there won't have them in 20 years from now. (either the DAR or Alb. have done some of the very oldest ones).

While Dave McNair’s headline, “Extreme Makeover RICH Edition: state program benefits those who need it least” is certainly attention grabbing, it is not entirely accurate. Despite the headline, I am glad he wrote the article, giving some publicity to tax credits which help homeowners make interior and exterior renovations that will benefit owners well into the future.

Let’s clarify the facts, the state program does not just benefit the rich. The City of Charlottesville has nine National Register Districts and 60 individually listed properties. Our newest National Register District is Woolen Mills, which adds 94 structures. So, there are literally over a thousand properties in Charlottesville that qualify for the program, some grand, most less so.

Any interested property owners must be doing a renovation equal to 25% of their most recent assessed building value, which does not include the land value. For example, a neighbor’s assessment is $400K, but the home, or “improvement” is assessed at $138K. So a remodel of this home would require spending $35K on the remodel, of which $9K, or 25% would be reimbursable by the state. The article says you have to spend a lot to receive the credits, but that is true only if your home is worth a lot.

However, any remodel must meet all standards of the National Park Service, or it doesn’t qualify, at all, for the state program. Plaster must be replaced with plaster, roofs must be replaced with like materials to what was original, and many other specific requirement. If the owner want to make other changes, then they simply do not qualify for the tax credit.

The process isn’t easy to navigate- plenty of documentation is required, and you do have to hire an accountant to certify your expenses. However, this is to ensure that the program only pays for qualifying expenses, and that remodels are in fact done to National Park Service standards. As the article points out, if you are not sure where to start, Charlottesville is filled with people willing to help. Check with groups like Preservation Piedmont, contact UVa for grad students who can help, etc.

Finally, when you receive the tax credit, the state does not cut the owners a check. You are credited the amount against your VA income tax liability. For example if your employer withholds money for VA taxes in your paycheck, you would be refunded that amount each year.

Not only do homeowners benefit from the credit. The inclusion of Martha Jefferson Hospital on the National Register, helped attract it’s buyer, Octagon Partners, who is planning on using credits for the redevelopment. The independent, local, roofers, plumbers and electricians also benefit by getting work that may not otherwise be available.

I invite Mr. McNair and the Hook to write a follow up article on how the good residents living in our newest districts like The Woolen Mills, Fifeville, and Martha Jefferson can get help through this program, which is not just for the rich.

FairTax is the solution to all of this mess. You buy, you pay. Your rich, you buy more, you pay more. Simple.


does that make everyone feel better. Blame "the rich" because we all know it's all their fault.
How incredibly biased is that? I really think the Hook is not worthy of reporting stories like this one. They should be ashamed of themselves.


does that make everyone feel better. Blame "the rich" because we all know it's all their fault.
How incredibly biased is that? I really think the Hook is not worthy of reporting stories like this one. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Just to clarify my comment: I am the former Chairman of the Board of Historic Resources for Virginia, BTW. The government has long used tax deductions/write-offs to promote investment in areas of special interest. Home ownership? Mortgage interest deductions. Oil well drilling? Oil well depletion allowances. Energy conservation? Tax credits for replacing your old appliances with modern energy-efficient appliances. Every time the government offers an incentive through their tax code, someone is left out and treated unfairly. And that's wrong. Are you a renter? Then you pay your landlord's mortgage, but they get the mortgage interest deduction. Only homeowners buy large appliances, so you're out of luck for that deduction if you are not a homeowner. The richer you are, the more deductions you can get. Period! Most renters are not rich. Most rich people own their own homes. But this isn't about rich vs not-rich. Want to promote having babies? There's a tax deduction for not only dependent children, but also a child-care tax credit. Childless couples and singles are paying for the tax relief given to child bearers. The government has NO BUSINESS using the tax system to promote special interests no matter how well-intentioned. Take our money; pay for education, police, military, fire/rescue, the arts, whatever you want. But promote one business over another, one interest group over another, through the tax code, and this is what you get. And to those commenting herein, quit picking on just one tax credit phenomenon and help fix the entire problem by telling the government to offer only one deduction: FOR POVERTY. Eliminate all the rest. It is the very reason the wealthy pay taxes at a lower actualized percentage rate than the upper middle class: they have more deductions! We do not need to raise taxes, we need to remove the deductions which will increase revenues paid to the government and simultaneously fix our broken tax code and make it fair for everyone.

@ democracy: since you and I are frequently on opposite political poles, I would like you, especially, to weigh in on my comment, above. I value your opinion.

In reviewing the article, it appears that the research done centered around historic preservation areas consisting of large estate property types. Unfortunatley it skews the facts and realities of how historic tax credits are most commonly used. Our firm has spent the last 10 years revitilizing distressed urban areas by utilizing the historic tax credit program. We have had the experience in some case of combining both historic and low income tax credits to offset the cost of bringing dilapidated structures back on line into a use that is sustainable long term. The structures usually require extensive abatement and renovation in order to meet the secretary interior standards for historic tax credits. The construction in most cases is more costly than building new, however the credits offset the extra cost and allow for the adasptive reuse of structures that most likely would have been demolished to make way for new construction. In essence, the program allows for historic structures to be recyled by offseting the higher cost of renovation VS. new construction. Urban renewal advocates consider this smart growth, because it allows for the preservation of land by slowing down urban sprawl and consumption of natural land resources. By lowering the cost it allows for developers who use the program to deliver multi-family housing, to pass the savings on to tenants who are usually working class individuals which makes the housing more affordable to them. As economist will tell you, the construction industry is 1 of the leading drivers in our economy, and the goal is to keep construction starts up to help the economy recover. Therefore, I believe more research should be done in order to accertain the full scope of the program and how it effects our economy, before inadvertantly inciting advocation against the program.