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Assessments' timing may prove troublesome …

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Were City Assessments Done on Time?Church Grows by VolumesDowntown Presents Weighs Its FutureGuv's Furniture Gets FinishedWitness: Chicken Leaped from Truck

Were City Assessments Done on Time?

Unable to complete assessments on real estate by the Jan. 1 deadline, the office of the city assessor received an extension last month — in the nick of time.

But in doing so the department may have given itself another headache.

Filing for the extension was the first order of business for James R. Vinson, who was hired to straighten out the poorly performing department. Last year, the city lost an estimated $22.68 million in real-estate-tax revenue because assessors had undervalued thousands of properties.

But when Vinson took over the office on March 19, he realized the office still was making corrections to the land book, the record in which property values are recorded. By law, the book was supposed to have closed Jan. 1.

The problem was, the office hadn't asked for a three-month extension that was available to them under state and city codes.

"The first thing the city attorney said was, 'Let's go in and get an extension and make this legal,'" Vinson recalls. So they did. On March 22, Vinson requested and received an extension from Circuit Court Judge T.J. Markow.

According to city and state code, the office is allowed to ask a judge for an extension of no more than three months from Dec. 31. That would be March 31. That gave the assessors nine more days.

So what about all the assessments the office had done before the judge issued the extension? Critics of the department — and the property owners whose assessments were increased — may pounce on the office for assessments it performed between Jan. 1 and March 22, before the extension officially had been granted. The question is: Can the judge's extension be retroactive?

Vinson says yes. He points out that there is nothing in the law that specifies when the department may ask for an extension.

Besides, Vinson says, such extensions are commonplace. "It's not uncommon anywhere in Virginia for people to ask for the extension," says Vinson, who likens the process to filing for an extension on paying income tax.

For now, there seems to be little furor over the technicality. City Council has bigger problems to deal with, says City Councilman Manoli Loupassi, whose 1st District constituents were hit hard by the assessment increases.

"The main rub is that people feel like their taxes are being increased," Loupassi says. "They see that as being unfair. I agree."

Jason Roop

Church Grows by Volumes

For a little-bitty church, St. Alban's Anglican Catholic has sure had some big moments.

Two months ago, the 100-member congregation moved from its teensy Ellwood Avenue address to the comparatively sprawling 13,500-square-foot former site of Hermitage Road Church of Christ at 4006 Hermitage Road.

Before it could settle in its new skin, the Rev. William Barr suffered a nasty case of pneumonia. He was too sick to even unpack any of the much-anticipated boxes that started arriving just last week. And the church had been praying for their safe arrival for months.

Last year, when the Anglican Catholic Provincial Seminary closed in Liberty, N.Y., the tiny Richmond church vied for its touted library. And to its delight St. Alban's [modest] proposal beat out a host of other church inquiries.

The carefully cultivated collection, the Bede Library of Holyrood Seminary, includes 15,000 volumes dating to the 19th century. "It's traditional theology," says Barr with a laugh, "certainly not cutting-edge."

In addition to the added volumes, the church is likely to add some scholars to its list of new arrivals. Students who would have studied Anglican-Catholic theology at the one-year program at Liberty now are applying to the three-year theological consortium at Union Theological Seminary. Now Anglican-Catholics join the myriad denominations represented at the North Side campus.

In time, Barr says, the church hopes to offer Anglican theological classes. With a south wing and a library to go in it, who knows? St. Alban's could just spawn a new seminary of its own.

"We do want to make this available to the community for scholars and pilgrims who want to deepen their faith."

Brandon Walters

Downtown Presents Weighs Its Future

Downtown Presents, the nonprofit group that for 16 years has planned all kinds of city events and festivals and given people a reason to stay downtown after work, is asking City Council to give it some seed money to help it plan for the next three to five years.

The six-staff-member organization is responsible for planning everything from the annual Monument Avenue Easter Parade to Friday Cheers to the Big Gig. And putting on nine major events and festivals with a half a dozen employees is no easy task.

Just ask the head of Downtown Presents, Chris Risatti. "We've been so busy with the riverfront [development] coming. I'm constantly amazed that we can do what we do," she says.

But with development along the Canal Walk, plans afoot for the 17th Street Farmer's Market area and the expansion of the convention center, the group has been forced to think about the future.

With all the new developments nearing completion, the pressure is on to come up with even more attractions to keep people downtown.

Then there's the matter of corporate sponsorship. More than half the organization's $2 million in annual revenue comes from donations. (The rest is from government support, grants or proceeds from events.)

But corporate sponsors have changed their donating strategies, says one Downtown Presents board member. Nonprofits have to compete for funds now more than ever. And with many corporations choosing between sponsoring school programs and sponsoring Downtown Presents-style outdoor events, it's easy to see how Downtown Presents could feel the corporate pinch.

Still, Risatti believes Downtown Presents most needs a deliberate planning process — something that's already under way. "We need to take a critical look at ourselves and see where we're headed for the next three to five years," Risatti says.

She acknowledges that "new opportunities" for funding exist, but maintains she's not worried in the least. On the contrary, Risatti is as optimistic as ever.

"What we're doing is creating traffic downtown while we wait for the bricks and mortar," she says.

What's more, she predicts that once the city's seemingly endless spate of construction is complete, people will be clamoring for outdoor things to do.

"We embody the spirit of the community," says Risatti. "We're open to all and we do get all. We touch everybody."

B.W.

Guv's Furniture Gets Finished

Brett Miller, owner of American Stripping Co., has worked on pieces at Agecroft Hall and the Virginia House. So he's hardly afraid of old furniture.

But when he was invited to refurbish the lawn furniture for the Executive Mansion, he was impressed. "It's a privilege to have enough experience to work on furniture of such importance," Miller says.

The mansion's collection of vintage lawn furniture is getting some refinishing and primping so it will be ready for display during Garden Week, April 21 - 28. The sprucing-up seems to be a follow-up to the Executive Mansion's recently completed restoration, which among other things brought Bob Vila to town.

Miller's first shipment of gubernatorial lawn furniture contained about 60 cast-aluminum chairs, tables and chaise lounges. More pieces are in storage, awaiting their turn. Miller's current batch will be painted hunter green and shipped to Murphy's Upholstery to be outfitted in green-and-white striped cushions.

Thurman Hodges, senior technician at American Stripping, says he does not know the exact age of the furniture. But judging by the amount of paint caked on the frame, it must be old, he adds.

"When we picked it up, it must have had 30 coats of paint on it. You couldn't see any detail," Hodges says. The paint was layered 1/16 to 1/4 of an inch thick, he says. He guesses the pieces have never been stripped before.

Hodges acknowledges that he's taking the job especially seriously. "I've been a longtime Republican so it means a lot to me," he says.

Miller is using a fine volcanic material to blast the finish, remove the paint and slightly etch the frame without taking off the metal's surface. Once stripped, the furniture receives a two-part epoxy primer and a two-part ultraviolet-resistant urethane, then coats of paint.

Miller contends that his older method is better than the new powder-finish method, which doesn't last as long but costs less. "Ours will be on there for another 50 years," he boasts. Though Miller won't say how much the job will cost the commonwealth, the company charges $60 an hour to blast and $35 an hour to prime and paint furniture. The work already finished has taken two to three weeks.

"It's in the thousands of dollars," Miller says.

— Olympia Meola

Witness: Chicken Leaped from Truck

With its courage, fortitude and will to survive, the Expressway Chicken is touching lives throughout the city — especially that of Beth Wright, a corporate communications officer for SunTrust.

Wright contacted Style Weekly after reading last week's Street Talk about the white-feathered chicken that has been living on the median of the Downtown Expressway for the last several weeks.

Wright was there in the harrowing beginning, the day the feathers flew.

On her way to work, she found herself behind a chicken truck from Tyson's. Suddenly, she says, she saw something falling from the back of the truck. It was white, feathered and alive. And in an instant it was free.

Wright, who has seen many a dead chicken on I-295, figured the chicken would meet a similar end. Instead, it landed on the pavement, rolled all the way across the road, jumped up and ran to the median.

Awestruck, Wright saw the whole thing in her rear view mirror.

Since then, Wright says, she's been pulling over in the median's crossover, throwing cracked corn for the chicken and cooing, "Here, chicky-chick." She hopes that if it gets used to her voice, she will be able to rescue it and find it a home.

"Maybe we can get money together to get him to a decent home where he does not have to worry about cars, lack of food or ever riding on a 'chicken truck' again," Wright says. "I just think that he has fought to stay alive against overwhelming odds and deserves a decent chance."

Style can't argue with that. And so last week, we contacted officials at the Maymont Foundation. They were happy to come to the rescue.

"Everybody's in favor of bringing the chicken to Maymont," says foundation spokeswoman Kate Peeples.

Maymont will make a special exception to its policy of not accepting rescued animals, Peeples says. After a rescue, she says, animal caretakers will quarantine the Expressway Chicken, then give it a new home at Maymont's Children's Farm.

Will the epic of the Expressway Chicken end happily? Tune in later.

J.R.

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