Charlottesville Council briefed on city-owned property

Council denies conveyance of one parcel; Councilor Magill seeks policy on conveyance of paper streets

The city of Charlottesville owns 170 pieces of property and another 18 in conjunction with Albemarle County. Does it need all that land and space? That was one of the undercurrents of a discussion and briefing Council had at a work session on June 21. 

“The approximate acreage of city-owned properties within the city is 798 acres and over 2,800 acres of city-owned properties located within [Albemarle] County,” said Brenda Kelley, the city’s redevelopment manager based in the Office of Community Solutions. 

Kelley said at the outset what would not be in her presentation. (view the presentation)

“This discussion will not include a discussion on streets, alleys, paper streets and paper alleys which are basically unimproved streets and alleys,” Kelley said. 

More on one of those later in this installment. City-owned properties include the fire stations, City Hall, the schools, parks, and other properties. Lesser known properties include an L-shaped half-acre parking lot on West Main Street that leads to the half-acre Starr Hill Park and a quarter-acre parking lot on Estes Street in the Fifeville neighborhood. In 2019, the city purchased just over an acre of land adjacent to Jordan Park for $270,000. 

“And the previous property owners had already platted these six lots so this is another city-owned property that at some point we probably need to look at the possible development of affordable housing,” Kelley said. “That’s one of the discussions we had early on when the city first approved the approval of the purchase of this property.” 

What should the city do with the property it owns near Jordan Park?

In the county, the city of Charlottesville owns 67.56 acres on Avon Street Extended with some of that property being used by Charlottesville Area Transit. The city also owns 1,023 acres at the Sugar Hollow Reservoir and ten acres at the Lake Albemarle subdivision, both purchased originally for water supply. All of this land takes management.

“We do have some challenges when we talk about city-owned properties,” Kelley said. “We need to develop a better consistent process when we have requests to dispose of the properties or acquire the properties. Maintaining these properties. Are there departments currently maintaining these properties? We think a lot of them are being maintained. And are any of these properties developable?” 

As with city leases, no one has been coordinating all of the information over the years. Now Council has a chance to act on policies for what to do next. 

“And there [are] a lot of properties that are adjacent to right of ways and is that something the City Council wants to look at,” Kelley said. “Do we want to approach adjacent property owners and see if there is an interest in putting those on the tax rolls.” 

Kelley said staff will come back to Council with another summary of city agreements not tied with leases that may not be coordinated in one central office. 

“We have now the information we need to start addressing the concept even of consistent policies and a consistent point person to work all of this out so we will be coming back to you,” said interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers.

Rogers said there is an opportunity for Council to determine what it would like to do going forward. 

City Councilor Michael Payne said he wanted to know if this might help resume discussions of creating a city-owned land bank to acquire property for public purposes. 

“We’re land-locked, ten and a half square miles,” Payne said. “Our single most valuable asset is the land we own and I think land acquisition in particular is the single most important action we can take, both for economic development and affordable housing.” 

Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders said there could be a future conversation about a land bank ordinance, but the research is meant to get Council to a point where they would have enough useful information. 

“This all is a centralizing effort at this time so we can get our arms around what we have but really it is this conversation that is going to feed us on what next steps we want to take,” Sanders said. 

Councilor Magill seeks policy on conveying of “paper” streets to landowners

Later on in the meeting, Council had several items related to land use. One of them was a request from the owners of a lot on 6th Street SW in Fifeville for the city to convey to them a strip of property. (staff report)

“And this property is a platted 20 foot right of way that is labeled Oak Street,” said Lisa Robertson, the city attorney.

That section of Oak Street has never been built and it what’s known as a “paper” street. Council closed a 77-foot section of that same paper street in 2010 between 6 and 6 ½ Streets. In that case, one half of that former city property went to straddling property owners. 

Location of the paper street in question

No one initially spoke at the public hearing, but City Councilor Sena Magill thought she and her colleagues should put a pause on the conveyance. 

“Until we figure out holistically what we’re going to do with the paper streets, the piecemealing of people who know to be able to come to City Council or to come to get the street closed, I don’t feel it’s a fair overall process,” Magill said. 

Magill said until the process is more clear, she would like Council to stop granting them until the policy is more clear. 

Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade said he’s handled many paper streets when he was a planner. He said he was okay with deciding them on a case by case basis because every property may have unique conditions. 

“I think it would maybe be hard to come up with an overall city policy because each one might be different,” Wade said. 

The two property owners did want to speak at the public hearing, but had not been recognized but later did have the chance to have their say. 

“Currently the actual alley isn’t in great condition,” said Vignesh Kuppusamy. “There’s a tree that fell over in a recent storm that’s dead and kind of rotting there so we were also thinking that if we were to do this and be granted the land together with the owners of 313 we could clean the area up and make it look nicer.” 

Wade supported the idea of developing a policy, but said he would feel comfortable granting this conveyance. So did Councilors Brian Pinkston and Michael Payne.

“To be honest I haven’t thought about it too much but my initial reaction is that shouldn’t hold us up on doing some on a case by case basis,”  Payne said. 

The matter will come back up for a second reading at Council’s next meeting on July 18. 

Council denies request to give up 0.02 acres of land on 9th Street NE

In a similar matter, Council denied a request from a landowner to be given a 0.02 acre vacant lot at the corner of East Jefferson Street and 9th Street for free. Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said there are two chestnut trees on the property. (staff report)

“The trees are huge and they’re beautiful and they’re worth more to the city I suspect then they would be to the neighbor,” Snook said. “My own feeling about is that we should not be in the habit of giving away real estate especially if it’s on a road where we may decide we want to have a bike lane or a wider sidewalk.”

The property is within the jurisdiction of the East High Streetscape project.

The owner of the adjacent property, Thomas Gierin, said those trees are infested with ivy and he said the city is not equipped to take care of the maintenance. He said he could take better care of the property. 

“I have worked with the city arborist office to have them come out and perform maintenance,” Giren said. “They did come in I believe in February to do some maintenance and I spoke with them about doing the things it would to make those trees healthy and thriving and they said ‘we’re just here to keep the branches away from the street.”

Gieren said he would be paying property taxes if he owned the land, and that he would grant an easement for any future transportation project. 

Councilor Magill said she would prefer the city to retain ownership.

“One of the most expensive things about doing sidewalks and doing everything else is the getting the right of way and by giving up land that we have the right of way to, we limit ourselves and potentially cost us significantly more in the future.” 

Snook said he felt there could be a negotiation with Gierin to work out a deal.

“I’m certainly not prepared to say yes but I’m also not prepared to say, no, never,” Snook said. 

Council voted 4-1 on a motion to deny the request with Wade dissenting. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the June 30, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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