V&T Depot – The Spectre of Eminent Domain

Yesterday I engaged in a cheeky little tit for tat on Facebook with Comstock Chronicler Karen “Storey County Cheer Squad Princess” Woodmanse. She was curious about why I attacked the poor innocent little ol’ Mustang Ranch owner and his bunkmate for code violations (which you can read about here) yet remained silent about all the “violations of my friends”.

I’ll break my silence for Pom-Pom girl here.

The number of my friends cuts a pretty wide swath. According to the recall election tally of Sheriff Antinoro, there were 601 people who voted to recall him. Therefore, the rest of the county (about 3800 folks) I consider my friends. The only potential violation I could think of about concerning “my friends” might be the V&T Railroad Depot on D Street. The V&T Depot is owned by my lifelong friend Pierce Powell.

The V&T Depot Is A Firetrap!

People in the county suggest the V&T Depot (kinda like most wooden structures on the Comstock), is a fire hazard. While all of these fire hazards enjoy grandfathered code exemptions, the invisible hand of property insurance requires code compliance in most cases.

I recently interviewed Pierce Powell and Storey County Commissioner Marshall McBride about the disposition of the Depot.

Commissioner McBride explained Storey County has conducted negotiations with Mr. Powell regarding the purchase of the V&T over the past 5 years. They have conducted the negotiations in good faith getting an appraisal and providing what they consider to be a fair offer of $710,000.

During this time Mr. Powell has lived in the Depot and has experienced several bouts of illness. “Pierce shared with me he is worried about living alone,” explained McBride. “His recent bout with illness has given him cause to think about the future of his living conditions.”

The Real Estate Appraisal came in at $635,000 (done in August 2016 according to Mr. Powell). After agreeing to pay the estimated $60,000 the county owes Powell for sewer pipe installation and connection fees, Commissioner McBride sweetened the pot by offering another $15,000 for the Model A Ford Trucks and other accessories scattered around the premises. “We even agreed to give Mr. Powell an additional year to live in the depot after the sale so he can arrange for his possessions to be moved or sold.” Said McBride. “I asked him if he wanted to sell and he said he did. However, after giving him everything he asked for, he changed his mind.”

And change his mind he did. 

Mr. Powell suggested that at the end of the day, the county simply isn’t offering him enough money. Powell considers the county hounding him to sell at a price lower than he is willing to accept as unacceptable. The fact that the county would be retrofitting sprinkler connections and doing roof repairs during the year he is living there, wrankled Mr. Powell.

Then there is the sewer connection that the county has, ten years later, still not made good on. Pierce explained, “I gave them a sweet deal on the property that museum down there sits on, and included in that sale was an agreement to run a sewer line down here with six connections. I asked Whitten to get the line installed so I could buy and move a couple of those bungalows next to the courthouse down here, and he said there was no mention of a deadline for installation and the Public Works fellas are pretty busy. So I missed out on that opportunity.”

“The last time I spoke to McBride he started yelling. He accused me of going back on my word. That’s nonsense. I did say I wanted to sell, but I was scrupulously careful not to agree to his price. I never agreed to his price. So he stormed off and the next thing I know they want to take my building away from me and force me off the property.”

V&T Depot in 1985. © Germino Archive

It wasn’t long after that dust-up that Pat Whitten threatened the use of coercive force to wrest the property away from Mr. Powell. You can hear his thoughts here (4:34):

Mr. Whitten suggests that if you have comments or concerns, he is all ears. I encourage you, gentle reader, to reach out and let him know your thoughts at 775-847-0909 or emailing him at pwhitten@storeycounty.org

I had to wait a couple hours after Pat spoke for my turn during public comment to chime in on this which I did here (2:32):

V&T Depot in 1983. © Germino Archive

What’s the Plan, Stan?

“I was in Los Angeles when they put in the freeways; I know about the judicious use of Eminent Domain. Eminent Domain is used for the Greater Good for the Greatest Number of People the Community. How will the entire county benefit by stealing from me?” Said Powell.

When I posed the question of what they planned to do with the Depot, Commissioner McBride explained: “There are a number of things we could do with the Depot. Imagine punching the tunnel through and have a train engine turning around on a dial. People come from all over the world to see the cable cars turn around on Market Street. That would be something.”

As he went on to describe other thoughts they’ve got on what to do with it once they get their mitts on it, and I love the idea of a steam engine turning on a turntable. However, it became pretty clear after talking to Commissioner McBride; they don’t have an actual plan of what to do with it other than to install a sprinkler system in the building so it doesn’t burn down.

Great ideas, no plan.

I agree with the sentiment in the courthouse and the snippy tat that Karen Woodmanse (mostly). It would be a crying shame if the building burned down. Contrary to what Karen suggests, I would not point my finger at the county and demand answers on “why they didn’t do something” to prevent this imaginary fire.

It is not the county’s pervue to be held responsible for every fire that may claim a building.

The County’s interest in this transaction claims to be the desire to prevent the building from being burned to the ground. They have not provided anything that could be mistaken for a sober, well thought out plan for using the building for the greater good of all people in the community. There is no project so critical to Virginia City or Storey County’s safety or public well being, infrastructure or otherwise, that is urgent enough to steal this man’s property.  

The Solution Is Simple.

Motivated by the desire to protect Mr. Powell’s property from fire, why not take the money they have (despicably) owed Mr. Powell for failing to fulfill the contractual obligation of a sewer pipe and instead offer to install a sprinkler system in the building?

Doing so they satisfy their generous and benevolent proclivities, fulfill a stale obligation and let a private property owner continue to enjoy his life, liberty, and property as he sees fit.

Eminent Domain is Theft.

Period.Stay Tuned.

2 thoughts on “V&T Depot – The Spectre of Eminent Domain

    1. A grocery store is a tough sell up here on the Comstock. I remember Dennis Pecararo was awesome and did a great job hanging on by his fingernails for years. With Walmart and Costco and Winco and all the really great places to buy food within 30 minutes, a grocery store is a tough sell.

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