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301 West Freemason St.
Norfolk, VA 23510
Phone: 757.622.5812
Fax: 757.622.5815
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Small Business Owner Stands Up to Condemning Authority . . . and Wins

By Christi Cassel

On June 8, 2006, Charles Andrews, Jr. received the news he had waited years to hear: the Supreme Court of Virginia denied Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority the right to condemn his property for use as a parking lot for the employees of the neighboring Coca-Cola Company plant.

The Supreme Court of Virginia’s decision invalidated portions of an industrial conservation plan that had been in existence for nearly twenty years. For the first time in fifty years, the Court denied a housing authority the right to take property designated in a housing authority plan.[1]

In 1987, the Norfolk City Council directed Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) to examine property in the North Church Street district of Norfolk to determine whether governmental intervention was needed to rehabilitate the area. NRHA’s conservation plan, adopted by City Council in 1988, included a description of two salvage yards that NRHA had determined added to the blighted condition of the area. City Council authorized NRHA to acquire the salvage yards if the blight was not improved. Although notice was sent to the owner of one of the yards about the need to correct the conditions, no such notice was given to Charles Andrews, the owner of the second salvage yard.

Charles Andrews owned Downtown Used Auto Parts, which first leased the second salvage yard in 1992. Eventually, Andrews’ company, C & C Real Estate, Inc., was able to purchase the property. Andrews improved the property and expanded his salvage and used auto parts business. By this time, it had been nearly ten years since NRHA’s conservation plan was adopted. No notice of any kind had ever been given to Andrews, or to his predecessors, indicating that the property would be condemned if the property was not improved.

In December of 1999, NRHA sent C & C Real Estate a letter stating NRHA’s intent to acquire the property. Andrews was dismayed. “If you look at that letter you get, the way they write it sounds like you don’t have any options. Your option is nothing! They tell you what they’re gonna do. They tell you they’re going to take your property and they’re going to relocate you. They don’t want to do that. They didn’t even want us in the city,” he said.

NRHA made offers to buy the property, but Andrews refused to sell. One of the reasons Andrews rejected NRHA’s offer was NRHA’s refusal to compensate Andrews for the going business, despite the fact that it could not be relocated.[2] In 2003, the Authority passed a resolution to condemn the property, fifteen years after the adoption of NRHA’s conservation plan. C & C challenged the Housing Authority’s right to take its property, even though there had been no cases since 1956 in which a housing authority in Virginia had been denied the right to take private property.[3]

In 2004, Waldo & Lyle challenged the right of NRHA to condemn C & C Real Estate’s property. After one and a half years of legal battles and circuit court hearings, Norfolk Circuit Court Judge John Morrison held that the NRHA was not authorized to condemn, as NRHA had not given C & C Real Estate the required one-year notice to correct blight.

NRHA appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Andrews recalled recently, “People said to me, ‘You’re probably going to get killed in the Supreme Court [of Virginia],’ but I really never had any doubts. I felt, from the beginning, going in, that the law was on our side in this case.”

In June of 2006, more than two years after C & C Real Estate began its fight, the Commonwealth’s highest court proved Andrews correct, affirming the circuit court’s holdings: the language of the NRHA’s plan was overbroad and, therefore, did not allow for acquisition of C & C Real Estate’s property. The Court held that NRHA had a duty to provide C & C Real Estate with notice and an opportunity to correct any existing deficiencies prior to initiating any condemnation proceedings due to blight. As no such notice had been given, NRHA was not authorized to condemn C & C Real Estate’s property.

After winning the fight for his property, Charles Andrews has one piece of advice for property owners in Virginia: “Don’t ever give up and think that you have no rights, if you get that letter, like we did, from NRHA or even someone else. If you believe that you are right, you have to fight for it.”

Being aware of your rights as a private property owner in Virginia can make all the difference in the world. It certainly did for Charles Andrews.

[1] See Bristol Redevelopment and Housing Authority v. Denton, 198 Va. 171, 93 S.E.2d 288 (1956).

[2] See e.g. Ryan v. Davis, 201 Va. 79, 109 S.E.2d 409 (1959) (holding, despite adversity to tax, divorce, and distribution law, that the trial court did not err in excluding evidence in an eminent domain proceeding regarding the going value of the property owner's business, as the profits or losses from business are too speculative and uncertain to be considered in determining value); see also Va. Code Ann. §§25.1-400-17 (stating that rights of property owners under Virginia’s Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act are separate and distinct from the property owner’s right to just compensation, and, under the Act, the government is not required to compensate a property owner for a business that cannot be relocated). 

[3] See Bristol, 198 Va.