Charlottesville Breaking News

Biscuit backstory: Flips would have rewarded Craig's fees

In its first two years in the hands of speculators, doomed housing development Biscuit Run rang up over $7 million in expenses, including nearly a quarter million dollars paid to lead investor Hunter Craig. That's according to a court filing in the lawsuit in which Craig and company, already partially bailed out by taxpayers, are suing for nearly $20 million in additional public funds.

According to the filing at the Albemarle County Courthouse, the former owners concede they paid $240,000 to Craig Management LLC to oversee the property's rezoning in 2007. That's more than the group, organized just two years earlier, paid its environmental engineers, its traffic consultants, or to the civil engineers who designed the master plan for an intended 3,100-unit development on the nearly 1,200 acres southwest of Charlottesville.

Most expense categories, however, fall far short of what the group spent in its first two years on legal fees– over $700,000– and on the biggest expense of all: millions in interest on borrowed money that pushed their company, Forest Lodge LLC, to the brink of insolvency and so traumatized one of its lenders that it issued a special report to shareholders about the delinquent loan.

Much of the bleeding came to a halt on December 30, 2009, when Biscuit Run was sold to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation as a state park, a deal heralded by the outgoing governor, Tim Kaine, as a "bargain." However, investiga...

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Snooky's owner wins right to remove cedar shakes

One of the Downtown Mall's more unusual façades may soon change, now that the Board of Architectural Review has, at its November 15 meeting, approved the removal of the expanse of cedar shakes that has long covered the front of Snooky's pawn shop. Current owner/operator Jamie Sacco hopes that a once-festive pink marble front erected in 1932-33 may survive underneath. The building burned in 1949 when serving as Levy's, a dress shop that has since moved to Barracks Road Shopping Center. Sacco found a photograph revealing the 1930s design, which featured exuberant tiles and showcase windows on the now-removed second story– plus a dramatic, neon-lit center opening, which Sacco hopes to restore as an apartment terrace.

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By the Wayside: Busted bridge burns businesses

Back in May, just a month into a planned 18-month project, owners of several business located next to the Jefferson Park Avenue bridge replacement complained that the construction was hurting their businesses. Now, they say the JPA project is "killing" their businesses.

Since May, a pedestrian path ran by Wayside Chicken and the JPA Fast Mart, providing some foot traffic past the long-time group of businesses on the corner while a more sturdy temporary pedestrian bridge was being built. In late October, the pedestrian bridge was completed. But there's just one problem. It was built on the other side of the street.

That, says JPA Fast Mart owner Jeff Catlett, just added insult to injury.

"It blows my mind that they've done all this without thinking about the consequences for us," says Catlett, who points out that pedestrians now have to negotiate a veritable obstacle course of bright orange traffic barrels, netting, and white barriers to reach his store.

"Businesswise, this project is killing us."says Fast Mart's manager, Bill Clayton, who put up a big sign in an effort to lure customers through the maze of construction materials.

"It's a convenience store," says a dejected Clayton, "but its not so convenient anymore."

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Two more: Fatalities mount on county roads

The death toll on Albemarle roads continues, with two more people dead, adding up to five fatalities in less than a week, none of them wearing seatbelts.

Scottsville Road was the scene of the latest carnage. Around 10pm November 16, southbound Amy Ouypron, 24, went off the road in her 2006 Nissan Sentra, overcorrected, and swerved into a northbound SUV, according to police.

Ouypron died at the scene at Route 20 and Red Hill Road, and police say alcohol and excessive speed were factors in the crash. The two people in the SUV had non-life-threatening injuries that were treated at UVA Medical Center.

The driver in a November 8 single-vehicle crash on Scottsville Road– Jane McKay, 76, of Palmyra– died November 15 from injuries sustained in the accident, according to a release. Police are still investigating what might have caused her to veer off the road and down an embankment around 6:50pm that Monday.

Neither McKay nor Ouypron were wearing seatbelts, say police, nor were any of the other victims of the past week.

Larry L. Taylor, 59, of Louisa, died in an accident November 11 on I-64. Samuel A. Wells, 25, has been charged with reckless driving in that crash.

And Jessica Marie Lewis, the driver of the November 10 accident that kill...

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Family tragedy: Mother charged in crash that kills daughter, ex-husband

Twenty-year-old Amber Leigh Johnson is known for her friendliness and her smile. Her photograph captures that, and it seems jarring to be on the obituary page.

The smile is the first thing her boss, Mark Hurley at Cheeseburger in Paradise, mentions, along with her energy. He was particularly impressed she was going to Piedmont Virginia Community College while working full time.

On November 10, after having dinner at Cheeseburger in Paradise with her mother and father, Amber Johnson's dreams of working with children in medicine abruptly came to an end.

Her mother, Jessica Lewis, is still hospitalized from the accident that killed her daughter and her ex-husband, Michael Wayne Johnson, 40, on Half Branch Road in Crozet. Police say Lewis, 36, of Crimora, was driving too fast and had been drinking when she slammed into a tree on the narrow country road just south of King Family Vineyards.

Lewis has been charged with driving under the influence. Police are awaiting the results of a blood alcohol test, and say additional charges are pending. When driving and drinking result in death, manslaughter charges are typical, says Sergeant Darrell Byers with Albemarle police.

The Kia Optima Lewis was driving was crushed and the engine was on fire when father and son Warren and Robert Wood arrived....

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