Charlottesville Breaking News

St. Maarten Café sign stolen

Just a week before the planned re-opening of St. Maarten Café on the Corner, which closed abruptly at the end of January after 26 years, more trouble has struck. On the night of March 5, the massive 200-pound, hand-made sign that has been hanging outside since 1985 was stolen.

"It makes me want to cry," says Nicole Hamilton, fighting back tears. "I'm freaking out I'm so upset."

Hamilton, along with her husband Russ and several local investors, were planning to re-open the popular Corner restaurant, but when they arrived that morning they noticed the sign was missing

"We're just looking to have it safely returned," says Hamilton. "And we won't press charges."

If you have any information about the sign, call Crime Stoppers at 977-4000 or fill out an online incident report.

–->Update: Look what happened next.

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Double-dipping? Man decries rougher justice for black workers

Butch Wells was bothered when he learned that a former employee of his may have been collecting unemployment benefits during the 18 months she earned a paycheck from him. What intensifies his anger is that three others charged with welfare fraud– all of them African American– are getting prosecuted while his ex-employee may be allowed to negotiate her way out of trouble.

Do some government agencies criminalize benefits fraud while others steer clear of the courts? It looks that way.

For example, in early January, three African-American women were arrested and charged with felony welfare fraud for allegedly collecting from Charlottesville's Social Services. That same week, Wells says he was contacted by a Virginia Employment Commission investigator looking into allegations of double dipping about one of his former employees, and the investigator said she'd be meeting with the former employee, who is white, to set up a repayment plan.

From April 2010 to November 2011, Wells, who owns a home health care business called Tassco II, says the ex-worker was paid more than $52,000. And according to his estimates, during that time, she could have reaped as much as $30,000 in unemployment benefits.

"The three arrested for welfare fraud are African American, and one they're negotiating with is white," says Wells. "It has a hint of...

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Table of contents

Interesting times
A hunger strike ends, a nuclear plant leaks radiation, and an alleged abduction may never be solved. Plus, a victim of violence at UVA asks why everyone's blaming alcohol for George Huguely's rage, and a Nelson County man's dream of challenging Todd Palin on his home turf comes to an end. Confucius' curse has certainly come true!


Probe protest
When hordes of women and small children marched on the capitol in Richmond in peaceful protest of state-mandated ultrasounds prior to an abortion, the police response was startling and, many would say, deeply disturbing. Machine guns and dogs? Really?

Kidney woe
A failing organ is bad news under the best of circumstances, but when you're an immigrant without all your home-country friends nearby, the search for a match can be all the more difficult and terrifying, as one 30-year-old Croatian refugee is learning firsthand.

Going down...
The City assessor's office says property values dipped just a few percentage points this year, but another local real estate source shows listings have plummeted far more than that. What gives? A few phone calls and some number crunching shows that the City cooks the numbers to avoid bad news and soak the taxpayers.

On the cover:...

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Tax time: City budget holds, county raises the rate

Here's how the executives running Charlottesville and Albemarle describe their proposed budgets in three words.

"Schools, schools, schools," says city manager Maurice Jones, looking at funneling an additional $3.4 million over last year to city schools.

"Half-smile budget," says county executive Tom Foley, whose proposed "equalization" property tax increase of 2.2 cents per $100 does not have everyone smiling.

Foley's recommended $311.7 million budget for fiscal year 2012/2013 adds $7.3 million in spending– a 2.4 percent increase– to a budget he says is less than the county's 2008/2009 budget. That was the year the housing market crash and reduced property tax assessments were just beginning.

Foley insists the equalized tax rate of 76.4 cents per $100 is one in which the average property owner's tax bill won't increase, thanks to the continuing drop in home property values. "This is the fourth year without a tax increase," he says. "For two years we actually reduced taxes about $100." That would be those plunging home values again. 

"It's a misperception that the equalized tax rate is an equal burden on everyone," says soon-to-step-down Jefferson Area Tea Party chair Carol Tho...

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Shoppers changes: Center to welcome Stein Mart, DSW shoes

Plans to spruce up Shoppers World, the 1970s-era shopping Center best known as the former home of Whole Foods, are moving forward. As revealed at a recent Albemarle Country Architectual Review Board meeting, fashion retail chain Stein Mart and designer shoe warehouse store DSW are moving in. Now Federal Realty, the Rockville Maryland-based company bought the shopping center in 2007 for $27.2 million, wants to renovate the facades of the buildings.

"It's a great improvement," said ARB member Bruce Wardell at the March 5 meeting, though he noted that approval for the design won't be compete until the company's architects submit a final plan at an upcoming ARB work session. While Wardell mentioned that the use of some corrugated metal made him "a little nervous," all members voiced agreement that the proposed renovations would be welcome.

Since buying the shopping center, Federal Realty– which also operates Barracks Road Shopping Center– has either been shuffling tenants (Advance Auto and Massage Envy moved) or refusing to renew leases in the hope of luring big box tenants. In January, the company gave the gigantic China King Buffet the boot. In 2011, the year Whole Foods departed for a larger space on Hydraulic Road, Super Shoes moved, and Ragazzi's closed.

Federal Realty's Mark Henderson says he's "real excited" about the tenant moving into the Raggazi's space, but said he couldn't yet reveal the name. Back in October, ...

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