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December 17th, 2009 — By — In News & Events

Why has this Roanoke property been condemned?

Last month, Roanoke Judge William D. Broadhurst granted Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s (RRHA) petition to take private property owned by Jay and Stephanie Burkholder (B&B Holdings, LLC) using the Authority’s power of eminent domain. Judge Broadhurst indicated in his November 12, 2009 correspondence to counsel that although evidence had been presented by B&B’s attorneys which “clearly suggests to the Court that the City was responding to pressure from Carilion in trying to direct the conclusions that RRHA would reach” with respect to the blight study, RRHA had been sufficiently insulated and had independently found “blight” in the neighborhood, and therefore the B&B property could be taken.

Judge Broadhurst overruled B&B’s objection to the taking of it’s 3-acre tract by eminent domain as part of a redevelopment plan closely linked to Carilion’s proposed multi-use business park and medical school along South Jefferson Street in Roanoke, Virginia. Following the November court ruling, Carilion began a public campaign to distance itself from the condemnation of the Burkholders’ property. A Carilion spokesperson indicated shortly after the court’s ruling that “Carilion does not need the [Burkholder’s] land and has not requested it from anybody.”

However within weeks of the court’s ruling, The Roanoke Times (See E-mails document Carilion’s interest in recently condemned business property), obtained under a public records request email communications between city officials and Carilion documenting years of collusion between the City, it’s Housing Authority and the private medical company. The fact that Carilion now claims that it does not want the B&B property dramatically alters the Burkholders’ situation. Carilion is obligated to buy the B&B property from the City once it has been seized by eminent domain, meaning Roanoke is taking private property that its preferred developer has no use nor desire to redevelop.

Background of the case

In 2000, the City of Roanoke contracted with Carilion to acquire 110 acres in Roanoke to build a biomedical park. Rather than purchase the properties on the open market, the City authorized the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) to take the properties by eminent domain and sell the condemned land to Carilion. However, before the power of eminent domain could be legally exercised by the RRHA, a blight study concluding that the majority of the area was blighted had to be conducted.

The City, through RRHA, devised a redevelopment plan based upon a study that declared the industrial and commercial neighborhood surrounding the Burkholders’ 3-acre property as blighted. The Burkholders’ property, however, was not found to be blighted.

The Burkholders’ property was condemned on June 29, 2007, one day before a new Virginia law would have required a finding that the property itself was blighted in order to be condemned.

For several years, the Burkholders have fought the taking of their property. In the summer of 2009, their attorneys at Waldo & Lyle, PC in Norfolk presented 3 days of evidence demonstrating that the area was not blighted and that the experts who conducted the study finding blight were influenced by the City and by Carilion to conclude a blight finding. Further, attorney Joseph T. Waldo argued that the RRHA’s purpose of “economic development” for the area designated as “blighted” is not a “public use” for which the power of eminent domain may be used. (Disclosure: Joseph Waldo is a Member of OCA.)

This week, Joseph Waldo, Burkholder’s attorney, filed a motion requesting the court to reconsider its prior opinion and allow the property owner to present the new email evidence obtained after Carilion stated it did not need nor want the Burkholder’s property. Yesterday, Mr. Waldo and his client, Stephanie Burkholder, appeared on Fox News’ Fox and Friends to discuss the case and their hope that the court will reconsider its November decision.

With Pfizer’s recent decision to pull its operation out of New London, Connecticut, the city made infamous by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision, the change of heart expressed by Carilion begs one to ask — why take the Burkholder’s private property, where a thriving business operates, if there is no need or use for it by Carilion?

We will be following this case and update as new information is uncovered and when the court rules on the Burkholder’s motion for reconsideration.

More news regarding this case

Judge rejects property condemnation claim

These Grinches Aren’t Bringing Back Christmas

Land owners ask judge to reopen condemnation case

Photo above: Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital is reflected in the front windows of Burkholder’s flooring business, Surfaces.

Photo credit: Photos by Jeanna Duerscherl | The Roanoke Times

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Joshua E. Baker, an attorney with Waldo & Lyle, PC in Norfolk, Virginia, the firm representing Stephanie and Jay Burkholder contributed to this post.