By Sean Tubbs
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
The Charlottesville City Council voted 3-2 Monday to begin condemnation proceedings for three slivers of land needed to build the grade-separated interchange between the Meadow Creek Parkway and the U.S. 250 Bypass.
However, the city does not expect to condemn land owned by the nearby Covenant School . Covenant’s Lower School occupies the old McIntire High School building on the U.S. 250 Bypass.
“We are pleased to report that we have reached a tentative agreement with the Covenant School,” said Angela Tucker, the city’s development services manager.
“I’m delighted that we seem to be reaching a good positive settlement in that,” said City Councilor Kristin Szakos .
Tucker said she did not believe a similar agreement could be reached with Middle Mountain LLC, a corporation that owns three lots in the southwest quadrant of the interchange’s footprint.
The appraised value and the city’s final offer for the properties is $247,122. Federal law requires governments who take properties through eminent domain to pay the full market value.
“Once the city has filed their certificate of take, it may take possession of the necessary right-of-way and easements,” Tucker said. The city will pay the money into an escrow account held by the court system.
Middle Mountain LLC may take the case to trial but only to obtain a potentially higher settlement.
Tucker said the city needs to complete the right-of-way process and obtain approval from the Federal Highway Administration before construction can begin. She said the city is expecting to advertise the project for bids in August. Construction of the interchange is expected to take more than two and a half years.
The City Council held four public hearings Monday to move the right-of-way process forward, including hearings for two utility easements for Dominion Virginia Power and CenturyLink.
Peter Kleeman, a member of the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park, spoke at all four opportunities to express his opposition to the easements and the condemnation proceedings.
“I don’t like the idea of the eminent-domain taking and I think many in our community were holding out that this property would not need to be taken,” Kleeman said.
Judge Norman Moon had ruled in late May that the interchange could proceed.
Daniel Bluestone, another opponent and neighbor of the parkway and its interchange, questioned whether the city had enough money to pay for the $32.5 million interchange.
“The federal earmark for this project, which I believe is $27 million, is not sufficient to pay for this interchange,” Bluestone said. “If you need $15 million more than is available in the federal earmark, would you say, ‘Wait a minute, we need to redesign this interchange.’”
Tucker responded that the project is expected to come in under budget. When asked to provide details by Councilor Dede Smith, Tucker said she did not have that information at hand but would provide it to the council at a later date.
The council also heard the first readings on the project’s utility easements and will take a final vote at its meeting on June 18.
Transit association forms
Two independent city council candidates have formed an association to promote the needs of Charlottesville bus passengers.
The Transit Riders Association of Charlottesville came out of a recent rally sponsored by Brandon Collins and Paul Long .
“One of the things that we are going to do is set a list of priorities for what we’d like to see accomplished,” Long said.
Long said the association will lobby for expanded evening service, full service on Sundays and holidays and late-night service on weekends.
“A good public transportation system is not just for people who are in the lower economic scale and cannot afford to drive
Long said transit improvements should be prioritized in order to help get more people to jobs.
“People who are an entry level jobs are not in a position necessarily to own an automobile and there are jobs that people cannot get to simply because they have no way of getting there,” Long said.
Collins said the association will lobby for expanded evening service, full service on Sundays and holidays and late-night service on weekends.
The association will next meet at noon on June 23 in the Jefferson Room of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library’s Central Library on Market Street.