By. Neil Williamson, President
Last week, without so much as a public input session – Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors empowered themselves to stomp on property rights – make repairs or even demolish homes they determine to be “blighted”.
All of this is perfectly legal, but that doesn’t make it right – and the public has no idea it is going on – there have been no community meetings or outreach efforts.
Please let me explain.
From the staff report:
Virginia Code § 36-49.1:1 enables localities to identify and remedy “spot blight.” Virginia Code § 36-3 defines “blighted property” as:
“[A]ny individual commercial, industrial, or residential structure or improvement that endangers the public’s health , safety, or welfare because the structure or improvement upon the property is dilapidated, deteriorated, or violates minimum health or safety standards, or any structure or improvement previously designated as blighted pursuant to § 36-49.1:1, under the process for determination of ‘spot blight.’”
This enabling authority authorizes a locality’s chief executive (or designee) to determine that a property is blighted, and require the owner to develop an abatement plan within 30 days. If the owner fails to respond within 30 days with an acceptable abatement plan, the chief executive may request that the Board adopt a specific uncodified ordinance declaring the property as blighted.
Once the owner has been provided written notice of the ordinance and the locality’s abatement plan, the locality may carry out the approved plan to repair or acquire and dispose of the property. If the ordinance is adopted by the Board, the locality shall have a lien on the property to recover its costs of repairing or acquiring property under an approved spot blight abatement plan. Emphasis Added – nw
Despite photos showing trees growing through homes, we remain very concerned at the potential abuse of this “blight” provision.
But even more astounding than the trampling of landowners’ property rights, is the lack of public engagement by the Board. If a commercial property owner wants to make a change in their site plan (move a bus stop, etc.) – it requires a vast series of public meetings.
Albemarle prides itself on their high level of citizen engagement required for development applications (see flow chart below). We have raised concerns that these meetings are no more than political cover for the elected officials.
Community meetings, Community Council meetings, public hears at both the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are all part of the development review process.
The stated goal of this process is to provide citizens the opportunity to know about proposed changes in their community that may impact their property.
Why was this process not followed for the blight discussion?
Could it be that the Supervisors only use the “community process” when it conveniently slows the process?
If the Supervisors find this whole public engagement thing too inconvenient for their “important” issues, well that clearly is Albemarle’s double standard.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org