Email to Craig Brown re: private property issues on Steephill Street

Dear Mr. Brown,

I appreciate your attention to this and the thought you’ve given to your recent proposal. Your proposal however, is based on a premise that I find to be confusing, namely that we are in disagreement regarding the legal issues involving Steephill Street. We seem to be much more in agreement than disagreement.

We agree that the deed accompanying the plat of 1887 had clear language stating that the streets created by that subdivision were intended for a private rather than a public purpose. That plat contains no note of any sort indicating that it has since been vacated and you have never questioned its validity in any way. To quote from your email dated April 19, 2010:

“I’m assuming that your references to the original subdivision plat are to the plat recorded in 1887 in the Albemarle County Clerk’s Office in Deed Book 88 at page 260. The accompanying deed does contain a notation in the margin that “the streets on said plat are for the benefit of the lots laid off on the same and of the residue of the tract of land from which said lots have been laid off”.”

You stated in your email dated April 19, 2010, that Steephill Street had been created by The Charlottesville Woolen Mills. Inc. in 1953 and because of lack of limiting language on the plat or in the deed dedicating the street to private usage must be assumed to have been dedicated to the public right of way. As I’ve shown, through specific references to relevant and legally recorded deeds and plats, Steephill Street was created nearly 70 years prior to 1953, for a private purpose that you acknowledge being expressed on the deed recording its creation, and it was not a portion of the property subdivided in 1953.

You have produced neither documentary evidence nor proof of any other reasonable cause to believe that the subdivision of the lots formerly known as No. 6 and No. 7 somehow affected property that was outside the legal boundaries of those properties, namely that their subdivision had the effect of making the existing Steephill Street a public right of way.

You have had ample time following my response to review the public record and have failed to produce any other evidence to support a claim that either an expressed or implied dedication to the public right of way was ever intended for Steephill Street, under any name, at the time of its creation, or that any later action had the effect of making it a public right of way. You’ve made no objections to the facts as I’ve presented them nor to the conclusions I’ve drawn from them. I see then, no disagreement regarding the fact that Steephill was created for a private purpose with neither expressed nor implied right of way being dedicated to the public.

Neither of us as I understand it, are aware of any grant of easement or right of way associated with Steephill Street. You raised the issue of an easement by prescription, but you have not responded in the affirmative to my question of whether a court had found that such an easement should be ordered. I assume then that the answer is that there is none that you are aware of, so we are in agreement there.

I propose that we proceed based on our apparent agreement that Steephill Street was created for a private purpose, remains private property, and no public rights exist. The opinion expressed in the letter to Charlottesville City staff from the Office of the City Attorney dated February 7, 2005 under the subject heading “Determining the Status of Alleys within the City” seems reasonable to me and I would assume it’s agreeable to you as the person whom I presume to be responsible for approving communications from that office. It states “If the original subdivision plat states that a streets or alley is “reserved for the use of the adjoining property owners,” or similar language, then it is a private way and there are no public rights, interests or obligations therein.”

I suggest as the next step that the city appoint a qualified staff member, preferably a licensed engineer, to the task of writing a proposal, including specification regarding excavation, repair materials, repair methods, fill materials, fill procedures, and final surface finish for the area that the city is interested in excavating. The portion of the street that appears to be the intended work area is an area with a steep grade and current surface characteristics which make it unlikely that compacting by rolling with heavy equipment would be effective or even feasible. Based upon that proposed solution from your last email, it seems that the area has not already been inspected by an engineer.

Neither end of Steephill Street is particularly suited for access by heavy equipment and a proposal by an engineer will have to address issues of access for equipment and methods of work to minimize damage to the property. Steephill Street has as its name implies a very steep grade on one end and has a narrow wooden bridge on the other. The steep end of the street has a stable, but fragile surface that is subject to damage by heavy equipment and a very rough and irregular terrain that further increases the likelihood of damage to it by heavy equipment handled carelessly. If you will recall, the wooden bridge has been damaged by city owned heavy equipment in the past. Its wooden structure has deteriorated in the last several years and its stone foundation was weakened by work the city performed on it in 2006.

Before any work may begin, it will also be necessary to discuss bonding or other suitable guarantee that work will be performed to specification and address possible remedies in the event that it is not. The matter of potential damage to Steephill Street, the bridge, or any other private property resulting from work performed there will also need to be discussed and suitable guarantees put in place in the event that any should happen. Finally, the issue of liability should the City’s actions on Steephill Street cause injury to persons or property in the future will have to be addressed.

Close supervision by a particular, named, accountable, professional staff person during any excavation, pipe repair, and infill is absolutely essential. It would be best if that person were the same engineer responsible for specifying the work to be done. Uncertainty about the exact nature of the problem and the scope of the excavation necessary to solve the problem make it very likely that decisions will have to be made while work is in progress. I have witnessed many public utilities crews at work in my neighborhood and their conduct has at time greatly alarmed me. I am not willing to have any of those crews making decisions about property for which I’m responsible.

My daytime schedule is flexible and it should be possible to arrange an on-site meeting with an engineer during normal working hours with a bit of advance notice. I will have some time both this afternoon and tomorrow. I can be reached for that purpose at 996-2575. Any other communication regarding the matter should be in written form.

Louis Schultz

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