Charlottesville Breaking News

Comprender? Complaint brings Huja confidence vote

It was business as usual during public comment at the July 18 City Council meeting, until one citizen veered from typical issues, such as the Meadowcreek Parkway and the water plan, to raise a new concern, one that stunned councilors and led to accusations of xenophobia, government stifling of free speech, and a parliamentary vote of confidence.

City Council regular Pat Napoleon had finished her comments about the Parkway and used the rest of her three minutes to address another matter:

"I must relay a serious concern relating to a sitting member of Council," said Napoleon. "Others and I have been unable to understand Mr. [Satyendra] Huja's comments at City Council meetings and forums for years. It is the right of citizens to hear and comprehend what is going on during official meetings."

Huja, former Charlottesville director of strategic planning, worked for the city for 27 years and was instrumental in creating the Charlottesville of today with its Downtown Mall, flowers, and trees. He was born in India 69 years ago, elected to City Council in 2007, and seeks a second term at the August 20 Democratic firehouse primary.

Napoleon suggests that any elected officials who could not be understood should hire a translator at their own expense.

"It is crucial citizens...

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Rapture chef makes killer tomato dinner

Tomatoes. Like the potato, humankind has invented a multitude of ways to prepare and eat the darn things. On Sunday, July 31, Rapture chef Chris Humphrey presented his take on the fruit of vegetables, serving up a five-course Tomato Dinner.

"Nothing says summer like tomatoes," says Humphrey, whom some may remember from Fellini's #9, where his calamari rocked the house. "And it's been a great season for tomatoes."

Indeed, some industry experts have called this year's Virginia tomato crop the "best they've ever seen," thanks to the steady warm weather that began in early spring. For Sunday's tomato dinner, Rapture owner Mike Rodi says that he and Humphrey simply went to the Charlottesville City Market on Saturday, loaded the tomatoes in his son's red Radio Flyer wagon, and rolled them back to the restaurant.

Over the five courses, various tomato permutations mingled with scallops, grapefruit, snapper, vodka, pork shoulder, potatoes, garlic, mozzarella cheese, a toasted almond pastry, a light and fruity pinot noir from Oregon, and, believe it or not, pink peppercorn ice cream.

"I'm a sucker for tomatoes," says Humphrey.

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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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