Attorney: Loving family opposed to city acquiring Shockoe properties

The properties near Main Street Station planned for a slavery commemorative site include the old Loving’s Produce building. (BizSense file photos)

Efforts by the city to acquire land in Shockoe Bottom for a planned slavery commemorative site are moving forward, but the owners of that land say they’re not interested in selling and will fight attempts to take it by eminent domain.

At the Richmond City Council’s meeting Monday, Stephen Clarke, an attorney representing the Loving family, said his clients “oppose any acquisition” of the land that the city is looking to buy from them, and that they “intend to resist the taking of their property” should the city pursue it through its powers of eminent domain.

Clarke, a partner with Norfolk firm Waldo & Lyle, which focuses on eminent domain law, said the Lovings were not notified that the city intended to acquire the property until they read a report about it last month in Richmond BizSense. The land consists of 12 parcels totaling roughly 1.75 acres just east of the Main Street Station train shed.

“The Lovings have been longstanding members of the community and in particular have had a lengthy presence in Shockoe Bottom,” Clarke said, referring to the family’s Loving’s Produce Co., which ended operations last year after a nearly 75-year run, and their considerable land holdings in the area.

“In spite of that, the City of Richmond abdicated its responsibility to contact the Lovings about the potential acquisition of their properties,” Clarke said. “That’s a complete failure of due process.”

Clarke called on councilmembers to deny a requested public necessity declaration that authorizes the city to acquire the properties, and also mentions the possibility of eminent domain in the event of a non-agreement. But the council approved the declaration after hearing from Sharon Ebert, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and planning.

The properties, as viewed from the train shed platform, are currently used as parking lots.

Ebert said the city intends to negotiate purchase terms with the Lovings and would pursue eminent domain only as a last resort if a deal cannot be reached.

“I want to assure the Loving family that it is the intent of the administration to faithfully negotiate for that purchase and sale, and to do a taking would be the last thing that we would like to pursue,” Ebert said. “If we ever get to that point in the negotiations, we would advise the council that we were unable to faithfully negotiate for the purchase.”

Regarding the lack of notification to the Lovings, Ebert said Tuesday that the city’s process for contacting a property owner of an acquisition proposal ahead of an authorization declaration “was not advised” by the city attorney’s office.

“Clearly the Loving family knew of the desire of the City to acquire their properties prior to the Council meeting,” Ebert said in an email, citing an announcement last summer by Mayor Levar Stoney about the project, now referred to as the Enslaved African Heritage Campus.

That announcement, Ebert said, “…was the result of an intensive and lengthy community planning process, which clearly indicated that the Campus area included parcels owned by the Loving family.”

In July, Stoney announced that the city would commit between $25 million and $50 million for the campus project through a budget amendment in the city’s five-year capital improvement plan. An initial $1.7 million established the project fund earlier this year, and additional allocations are expected in future budgets.

A rendering of the slavery memorial included in the project’s conceptual plan. (Courtesy of The Center for Design Engagement)

Stoney said $3.5 million would be invested specifically in a planned memorial park. The campus also would include a slavery museum and encompass sites such as the Lumpkin’s Jail/Devil’s Half Acre site and land known as the African American Burial Ground. The two blocks that involve the 12 Loving parcels would be used as an archaeological site and house the slavery memorial and other campus features.

The latest city assessment valued the Loving parcels collectively at $2.4 million. The city’s purchase would be based on fair market values determined through appraisals and funded through a project allocation in the city’s capital improvement plan, according to an October memo from Ebert. The city Planning Commission voted in support of the move earlier this month.

The campus project has been taking shape for years with help from groups such as Shockoe Alliance, Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A conceptual plan for the campus was released in recent years and is posted on some of those groups’ websites.

A conceptual site plan from a 2016 proposal?shows the memorial park along the interstate and the memorial and other features that would fill the rest of the campus. (Courtesy of The Center for Design Engagement)

In his remarks Monday, Clarke maintained that there is not “a concrete plan” for how the Loving properties would be used, and he said any compensation to the Lovings for the properties must include not only the parcels’ value but also “any damages to adjoining properties caused by the taking, and compensation for lost profits.”

He said the family has tried for years to discuss potential acquisitions of portions of their properties but have never been granted an audience with city staff. He referred specifically to properties the family owns north of Broad Street, where a 5-acre tract is currently being positioned for a privately developed mixed-use project.

“At some point, the city needs to understand that its citizens and business owners are not automatically adversaries and that cooperation and communication are important tools,” Clarke said.

“To be clear, the Lovings oppose any acquisition of these properties by the City of Richmond, but they even more strongly oppose the process, or lack thereof, which brought us here,” he said. “Should the city wish to engage in discussion with the Lovings about these properties, we welcome that, but such discussion should not come with the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the Loving family in the form of the invocation of eminent domain.”

Should the city pursue eminent domain, Clarke said the Lovings “intend to resist the taking of their property through every legal means available to them.”

Later during the meeting, Councilmember Kristen Larson asked Ebert to confirm that the city is looking to purchase the land at market value and not through eminent domain. Ebert replied that that is the case.

“It is the intent to negotiate in good faith based on a fair market appraisal to purchase all of the parcels,” Ebert said.

Larson said Tuesday the lack of notice to the Lovings seemed “out of ordinary” but that she was supportive of the request based on Ebert’s comments.

“I was happy to hear (Ebert) say it was not an eminent domain situation,” Larson said. “That certainly would have changed my vote.”

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Justin Taylor
Justin Taylor
21 days ago

I doubt anyone wants an eminent domain situation, but I’m tired of squatters like the Lovings who sit on under-utilized land in prime locations who never talk about plans for the property. The ballpark was never going to happen and I can’t think of any other possible developments in this area that ever gained traction.

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
21 days ago
Reply to  Justin Taylor

Justin, doesn’t a landowner have a right to “sit on” one’s own land unless there is a need that requires it for public safety or other necessity (a highway, airport, etc.)? Does “a slavery memorial and other campus features” fit that requirement?

Michael Dodson
Michael Dodson
21 days ago
Reply to  Matt Faris

I agree with Matt this would be hard to push under changes made to law for eminent domain but it would interesting challenge. Public parks are a public use.

Justin Taylor
Justin Taylor
20 days ago
Reply to  Matt Faris

Where did I say I support eminent domain for this city project or any project? I didn’t. Where did I say they don’t have a right to sit on the land? I didn’t. I gave a personal opinion and not a legal opinion. I said I’m tired of the many land owners who squat on prime real estate in and around downtown Richmond who never seem to have a plan for development. We have an abundance of surface parking lots that add little value to the public or towards the collection of property taxes (ex. Shocker, Monroe Ward, Cary St,… Read more ?

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
20 days ago
Reply to  Justin Taylor

Justin, just to clarify: to your first point, I didn’t mention eminent domain either. My personal opinion is that a landowner as a right to do what they please with their land as long as it is allowed by zoning. and I have no interest in telling a specific landowner what to do with their property. I have experiened that in the past (actually what I coudn’t do, like develop it when the county incorrectl, based on a court decision, said that I coudn’t) and it sucks.

Michael Patterson
Michael Patterson
21 days ago

A slavery memorial absolutely does not meet the necessity requirement that is required for eminent domain. It’s a ‘nice to have’ not a ‘must have’ like road expansion. The Constitution protects us from this kind of government overreach. The city is essentially taking the position that we’ll *negotiate* a “fair price” but if you don’t accept our offer we’ll take it through force. So you’d better take our offer. Outrageous!

Derek Woolwine
Derek Woolwine
21 days ago

Pretty sad hearing a city that can’t succeed on any project wants to “take” a private citizen’s property just because they think they can and want it. THIS is what a Democrat led council does … trample rights of its citizens.

Brett Hunnicutt
Brett Hunnicutt
20 days ago
Reply to  Derek Woolwine

Ha, ever heard of that wall that is going up down South? Is a Democrat led council taking those people’s land? Plenty of council’s on both sides of the aisle take people’s land. Wake up.

JORDAN TUCKER
JORDAN TUCKER
15 days ago

That is a ridiculous comparison but you already know that.

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith
21 days ago

The elelphant in the room: why are the Lovings opposed to this acquisition (purchase, not eminent domain)?

Michael Patterson
Michael Patterson
21 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

Well let’s see. My guess is that the property is going to continue to increase in value year after year and they’re against the illegal confiscation of it. But what conclusion are you hoping everyone will reach without any information?

Daniel Cooper
Daniel Cooper
21 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

Who cares? Why are you opposed to selling your grandmother’s wedding ring? None of your business and not of consequence.

Brian Ezzelle
Brian Ezzelle
21 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

I love how some seem to feel they have a right to tell others what they need to do with their private property.

Frank Smith
Frank Smith
21 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

Ashley, not everyone lives in the idealistic world you do, where people have to choose to only support popular woke projects like this.

Also, when one thinks of the $50 Million cost, they should also think about the previous failure of a slavery museum (Gov. Wilder, which failed again when the proposal moved to Fredericksburg).

A slavery memorial is just another example of pandering by Stoney.

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith
21 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

Thank you for the many assumptious commentary. I was literally asking a question that wasn’t addressed in the article, yet was the main body of the article. Note how I put purchase, not eminent domain in parenthesis. I did so think y’all would understand I am against eminent domain in this particular case. Guess I need to make that more clear. Are they holding for investment purposes? If so, is the City appraising it, thus taxing it at a fair market value rate? This article gave no inclination that the Lovings were holding for investment purposes. Although they do mention… Read more ?

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
20 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

Perhaps this was because you used the phrase “elephant in the room” — which implies that you and others know, but no one is willing to say.

Brian Ezzelle
Brian Ezzelle
20 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

Why do you feel entitled to know why they dont want to sell it? Did you ever consider its actually none of your business?

Justin Taylor
Justin Taylor
20 days ago
Reply to  Brian Ezzelle

The purpose of RichmondBizsense is to discuss real estate development and business news, and Ashley’s questions cuts to the core of this site. If Lovings isn’t interested in selling the next logical question a reporter would ask is: since you want to keep property you are not utilizing, what do you plan to do with it? Businesses can always say they have no comment and you have no reason to be rude to her. It’s a blighted property at that so I’d say it’s certainly a valid question.

Kevin Jasp
Kevin Jasp
20 days ago
Reply to  Justin Taylor

I would buy this if Ashley didn’t use the phrase “Elephant in the Room”. As stated, that literally implies we all know what Lovings intentions are. Backtracking. Lets hope Lovings has a great use for their properties but it’s none of my buses if they don’t want to share.

Justin Taylor
Justin Taylor
20 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

Ashley I was trying to get to the same point you made above and I agree completely. Why would the Lovings continue to avoid selling such a prime piece of under utilized real estate? We have a lot of land owners near downtown who do this and it ultimately takes live out of our city and money out of our tax base. People have a right to hold property but as a city we need to do things to encourage development and discourage hoarding. Does that mean we have a different tax model for vacant land/surface parking? I don’t know… Read more ?

Fred Squire
Fred Squire
20 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

I hope the owners are reading this and supply you an answer regarding their future plans post-haste.

I think that is the least they can do and quite frankly they owe it to you.

Report back your findings once you speak with them. While you are at it, see how their will is structured, and let us know how their assets will be distributed to any heirs. Better yet, just tell us who their executor is.

Karen Shipman
Karen Shipman
20 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

It’s their property to do with as they wish.

Last edited 20 days ago by Karen Shipman
Lee Gaskins
Lee Gaskins
18 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

The article states that part of their parcels are parking lots. I assume that those lots generate income for them. They are entitled to continue to make money from their own property.

Don O'Keefe
Don O'Keefe
21 days ago

Creating a site that helps us confront and understand the history of slavery in the Bottom is one of the important tasks before us as a city. I hope some agreement can be reached. But I also wonder if this conflict could be avoided entirely, given recent developments. I don’t understand the process by which the city arrived at the conceptual plan shown in the images, but the recent proposal for a museum and commemorative landscape shown on the Lumpkin’s Jail website doesn’t include areas east of the tracks (see link: https://www.lumpkinsjail.org/conceptual-design-and-imagery). The image in the article above doesn’t show… Read more ?

Frank Smith
Frank Smith
21 days ago
Reply to  Don O'Keefe

Creating a site that helps us confront and understand the history of slavery in the Bottom is one of the important tasks before us as a city.

Why is it?

Tricia Dunlap
Tricia Dunlap
20 days ago
Reply to  Frank Smith

Why? Because if we are to succeed as a pluralistic democratic-republic, then we need to understand our history. That learning does not (or should not) end when the classroom door closes – if so, then our nation will be as stunted as an 18-year old who stops learning because high school is over. We need public spaces that help us understand and reckon with our collective past.

Jackson Joyner
Jackson Joyner
20 days ago
Reply to  Don O'Keefe

Understanding and confronting slavery should happen in the classroom. How do light fixtures and landscaping achieve that goal? Why can’t this be an extension of the Black History Museum? Why not a major wing of the Virginia Historical Society?During these overextended times, I would rather see that money go towards education and children’s services. You can’t just keep hitting residents with property and meal tax increases over and over again to meet budget.

Betsy Gardner
Betsy Gardner
20 days ago
Reply to  Jackson Joyner

The rendering is a huge swath of concrete with minimal shelter, landscape or trees for shade. I would guess it would be empty in summer given the extreme heat we get. Once again, it would be a “If we build it, they will come” that never comes to fruition.

Tricia Dunlap
Tricia Dunlap
20 days ago
Reply to  Betsy Gardner

I agree with Betsy that the rendering shows a rather unwelcoming design but my understanding is that the design is still a work in progress. Perhaps this is an opportunity to get involved and influence it. Regarding Jackson’s comment, most Americans leave the classroom at 18 and never return. It is not in the best interest of our society to limit opportunities for learning about our history to only the classroom. Whether white people like it or not (and, FWIW, I’m white), we will be a multi-racial, pluralistic society. Our success as a nation depends on our collective ability to… Read more ?

Tricia Dunlap
Tricia Dunlap
20 days ago
Reply to  Jackson Joyner

It’s important to build a museum/ memorial on this site because this is where tens of thousands of men, women, and children were sold into slavery and where many thousands died. If our society continues to hide from the truth of slavery, then we will not reconcile it. If we don’t reconcile this history, then we will not thrive.

Michael Patterson
Michael Patterson
20 days ago
Reply to  Tricia Dunlap

If it’s that important than the city should make him a financial offer that is simply too good to refuse. That’s how free markets work. Loving is no dummy. When we were house shopping, my wife fell in love with a house. So we paid 15% over asking price. We paid more than fair market value because she ‘had to have it’. This is no different. It shouldn’t upset people that if Stoney really has to have it he’s going to have to pay what the man wants for it. We’re talking about a guy that paid his buddies $1.8M… Read more ?

Last edited 20 days ago by Michael Patterson
Betsy Gardner
Betsy Gardner
19 days ago
Reply to  Tricia Dunlap

I think for most here, we have seen the “if they build it, they will come” mentality of the city where the benefits – economic or other – never come to fruition. A glaring example is the city’s botching of the Farmer’s Market right down the block. What was once thriving is torn down, rebuilt into something confusing and rather useless and standing empty.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
20 days ago

Democratic Party: Symbolism Over Substance.

If they would just TRY to manage the city better, they’d have a lot more tax revenue for the schools, mental health, etc — but it is like they are trying to encourage DISinvestment.

Google “Curley Effect”

Deon Hamner
Deon Hamner
20 days ago

Take the money or fix up the property. It’s an eye sore. Funny to read the comments on this because the city want this a slave memorial. But had no problem crying about keeping those American Traitors on Monument Avenue that was getting snatched down…

Michael Patterson
Michael Patterson
20 days ago
Reply to  Deon Hamner

That’s right, Deon. No rights for them. Because they don’t hold the same point of view as you do.

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
20 days ago
Reply to  Deon Hamner

It’s a parking lot. Looking at aerial photos it looks like its in good shape, and full of vehicles. It obviously is serving a needed purpose. Should the city pay for this site, then buy another site to provide the parking it’s removing?

JORDAN TUCKER
JORDAN TUCKER
15 days ago
Reply to  Deon Hamner

Laughable drivel. Maybe you should spend more time educating yourself and studying about the time period but I understand that does take some effort.

Michelle Reynolds
Michelle Reynolds
20 days ago

I understand the opposition to eminent domain. But in lieu of that I think the city needs to find some alternative to push the Lovings to crap or get off the pot. Perhaps a new tax passed that applies to some kind of downtown overlay district that states any surface parking lot or vacant land greater than XYZ in size pays 10x the property tax as the normal rate. Some cities have laws like this for vacant property tax. I am not sure they normally apply to parking as well. But the condition these parking lots are in constitute as… Read more ?

Michael Patterson
Michael Patterson
20 days ago

Eminent domain is exactly why the left wants to stack the Supreme Court. Sotomayor and Kagan would absolutely consider a slavery museum something ‘essential for the greater good’ and would give the green light for invoking eminent domain here. What’s next? Taking landlords property because ‘there isn’t enough affordable housing in Richmond’? Where does it end? Nowhere if you don’t have checks and balances. Remember, one of the principles of Communism is that land ownership creates wealth inequality. Break it up using whatever methods you need, including the abuse of eminent domain. Eminent domain is a slippery slope. When necessary… Read more ?

Last edited 20 days ago by Michael Patterson
Betsy Gardner
Betsy Gardner
19 days ago

Good point. Given the city can no longer annex for gaining tax revenue or other purposes, they would love this tool. This would have no tax revenue if done but the idea of taking property for other purposes by the city would be something I could see council members rubbing their hands together over. Lived here long enough that I am a bit jaded over intent on these things.

Last edited 19 days ago by Betsy Gardner