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Council approves lot condemnation
If owners don't agree to sell

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Martinsville City Council on Tuesday approved the condemnation, if necessary, of a small part of the Dana O. Baldwin Block uptown so the New College Institute (NCI) can proceed with plans to construct a new building there.

The transfer of the lot to NCI also was approved.

However, the city will offer $10,000 to the heirs of the lot as a settlement for taking it. Such offers are part of condemnation proceedings, according to City Attorney Eric Monday.

Officials thought the city had owned the entire vacant block, which it gave to NCI for the construction of a 50,000-square-foot building that will house several new academic programs being developed.

Site preparation work already is under way on the block.

They recently realized, though, that a small, 30-foot-wide lot on the block was not deeded to the city in 1996 when other nearby lots were acquired.

Monday speculated the reason to be that a house once on the property had straddled a lot line and city records had erroneously shown two lots as being one at least since the 1960s.

Monday did not identify the “orphan” lot’s heirs, but he said all but one lives out of town as far as he knows.

He said if they accept the $10,000, which would be split among them, the lot will not have to be condemned.

If they do not accept it, the city might have to go to court to get the land. Monday said the court could decide on Martinsville’s behalf because “adverse possession” laws enable the city to take the title to the land because it has been maintaining the property for more than 15 years.

Then the heirs would be entitled to no money, he said.

“The city’s argument for adverse possession is very strong,” Monday said.

The city has not collected taxes on the lot since at least 1996 because “we thought it was ours,” he noted.

The council held two separate public hearings on the issue — one pertaining to the condemnation and the other pertaining to transferring the land to NCI. Nobody spoke during either hearing.

Also Tuesday, the council gave its final approval to an ordinance that sets new City Manager Leon Towarnicki’s salary at $115,000 annually.

Towarnicki, 57, had been the public works director/assistant city manager. He also had been the interim city manager since former manager Clarence Monday left in early 2012 to become the Amherst County administrator.

Monday was earning $118,320 annually when he left. Towarnicki’s pay was raised to about $107,000 a year when he became the interim city manager, reflecting his work in three jobs.

Towarnicki has worked for the city in various roles since the early 1980s.

The council also:

• Adopted a resolution declaring April as Fair Housing Month in the city.

According to the resolution, the city commits to trying to provide equal housing opportunities for all residents.

• Adopted on second reading, making it official, an amended administrative plan for the city’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.

The amended plan basically reflects the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “enforcing all the regulations more vigorously,” according to Wayne Knox, the city’s director of community development.

The council adopted the amended plan while seated as the Martinsville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, the council will hold a special meeting to receive a city budget proposal for the new fiscal year that will start July 1.


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