Charlottesville Breaking News

Finally: Jefferson School ready for renovation

The long-delayed renovation of the historic Jefferson School could begin as early as this week. A private group that purchased the property from the city for $100,000 signed papers August 1 for a $12-million loan, clearing the way for work to start on the nearly $18-million project.

"It's a big, big step and we're very excited," says attorney Steve Blaine, one of the citizens tapped by the city to form the Jefferson School Community Partnership LLLP to salvage the aging structure, once the heart of Charlottesville's black community during segregation, and turn it into a community center with nonprofit tenants and an African-American heritage center. "The contractor is mobilized and ready," says Blaine.

Milestone Partners will manage the project, and its co-founder, Frank Stoner, is also a member of the Jefferson School partnership. Richmond-based Kjellstrom and Lee will do the construction.

The fate of the Jefferson School has been under discussion since the school closed its doors to students in 2002. Once the current plan was in place, the project was stalled first by the recession, and then by a court decision earlier this year that ruled Virginia tax credits, upon which the project hinged, could be considered taxable to the investors...

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'Bunker mentality': Galvin decries tone in issues debate

Two former mayors joined City Council candidate Kathy Galvin at a press conference where she expressed concerns about the "tone of our local political debate" as the Democratic firehouse primary approaches that will likely determine who sits on Council.

"I fear we’ve come to a low point in our local discourse that sadly mirrors the rancorous rhetoric and paralysis evident at the federal level in DC," Galvin said August 1 on the Downtown Mall. "Some have unfortunately adopted a bunker mentality about a particular issue or issues, and espouse a 'my way or the highway' approach to politics and decision-making.

"This isn’t good for the Democratic Party and it isn’t good for Charlottesville," said Galvin. "We must change."

When asked about the "bunker mentality," Galvin pointed to the community water plan that pits dammers against dredgers. Galvin supports building a new dam, and building the Meadowcreek Parkway, another controversial local issue.

"We've already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies," she said. Meanwhile housing, jobs, public transportation and schools are other local issues that Galvin says need to be addressed.

"Our local politics should not tolerate bitter factionalism, pit neighbor against neighbor, neighborhood against neighborhood, and city against county," said Galvin.

The candidates in the August 20 Democratic fi...

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Serial peeper: Man who inspired 3x law arrested again

The name of James Gilbert Stearn may not be widely known, but his Charlottesville activities are the reason for a Virginia law that raised the penalty for a third Peeping Tom offense from misdemeanor to felony.

Stearn's lengthy history of peeping arrests and indecent exposure charges date back at least to 1998, when he was arrested for lurking in the woods behind a UVA dorm and videotaping coeds as they undressed, according to a 2002 Washington Times article on the legislation to stiffen the penalties for serial peepers.

Sources familiar with the case say he fell out of a tree while videotaping.

As a misdemeanor, a peeping conviction carries a maximum sentence of 12 months. A bill carried by Delegate Rob Bell in 2006 made the third strike a felony with a five-year maximum.

Stearn, 49, has already served two-and-a-half years in prison under the new law, and on July 26, he was arrested again at his Leonard Street residence in the Belmont neighborhood. The arrest stems from a July 7 incident in which he was allegedly peering into an occupied building.

"Officers responded to John Street to a report of a prowler," says Charlottesville Police Lieutenant Ronnie Roberts.

The area around the university appears to be a favorite of Stearn, who was arrested on University Way in...

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Slowing postal: Free Union and the place we won't let go

The United States Postal Service– who needs it? Our whole society has gone electronic. With the availability of email, iPads, and smart phones, you need paper mail delivery about as much as you need a hi-fi for your vinyl records.

Well, now. If the above statements characterize your opinion, consider this scenario: The USPS has plans to close your post office. Not somebody else’s post office, but your very own. The one that’s so convenient, where you buy your stamps, mail wedding invitations, and send care packages to your college students– where you stop to chat with your neighbors and check out the bulletin board to see what’s for sale and whose dog is lost. And maybe you have an eBay business so you rent a post office box where customers can safely send you their checks.

Yes, you know that the USPS is said to be hemorrhaging money, but surely they can take aim at the many layers of their bloated bureaucracy and start the hunt for wasted money at the top. At the very least, they should pick on someone else’s post office, not yours.

If you happen to live in Free Union, this threat is not just theoretical. During the last week of June, our postmaster received written notice that the Free Union Post Office was being considered for DUO (“Delivery Unit Optimization”– fedspeak for “downsizing”).

Within a week, that consideration firmed up to “definite” status, and preparations b...

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FLAWS- Tripled rates, spun numbers, and Conservancy conflicts: Why the war on dredging slogs on

Just when you thought it was safe to save the reservoir, the war against dredging it has reached flood stage. Waterworks director Tom Frederick– perhaps rattled by a yank of his permit to build a new reservoir, and a growing desire, amid upcoming City Council elections, to muster political support– has been spinning the latest data.

What can't be spun is that rates have essentially tripled since 1999. And yet a small cadre of environmentalists– most enmeshed in government, each with links to the other, and one actually leading a Frederick-friendly news agency– persists in pushing reservoir replacement even though it would benefit a bottled-water company at the expense of local households, destroy 180 acres of mature hardwood forest, and require an electricity-dependent pipeline moving more water than all but two local rivers.

How did such a crucial community decision fall into the hands of special interests? The old saying "Follow the money" is apt, because if there's one thing the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority has, it's money. Money for consultants. Money for activists. Money to spend designing things that don't get built.

What the Authority also has is debt, $54 million today. And it's embarking on a five-year, $173-million capital improvement plan that doesn't even account for the pipeline, the most expensive piece of the plan.

Money to burn

The controversy began about four years ago when...

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