1993: Hatred’s History

Former students speak about their encounters with violent acts of discrimination

Words and Photo Illustrations by Dan Goff.

Editor’s note: The author of this article searched through old Cavalier Daily articles and examined content related to racist events from the 1990s. This article contains material that may remind some readers of traumatic events.

“A few weeks ago, something happened to me I shall never forget.” 

So begins Barbara Patterson’s Viewpoint article, “Magistrate fails to protect victims of racist neo-Nazi attack,” published in The Cavalier Daily April 7, 1993. Patterson was a fourth-year College student at the time. As the title suggests, her piece describes an attack instigated by neo-Nazis against two black men on the Corner, along with the legal action — or lack thereof — that followed it. The incident, witnessed by Patterson and her friend, took place within a week of the attempted murder of a Puerto Rican man. Both events were racially motivated, both of them took place in the spring of 1993 and both helped uncover a community of underground neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

According to the Viewpoint — essentially today’s op-ed — Patterson and her friend were walking through the Corner a little before midnight on a Saturday when they noticed a “tall, skinny white male walking towards [them].” Assuming he was drunk, Patterson tried to stay out of his way, but he “swerved his body” towards her and rammed into her, trying to knock her over “for no apparent reason.” She started to yell at him, but thought better of it. “Something told me … if I said anything to him, he might do something far worse than violently bump me with the side of his body.”

Then, they witnessed the attack. “It wasn’t until my friend and I saw the guy and a bunch of his friends jump two black men who were also innocently walking by the Corner that I realized the guy and his friends might be neo-Nazi skinheads looking to incite racial violence,” Patterson wrote. “I was right.” 

If she needed further proof, Patterson watched as “virtually dozens of neo-Nazi newsletters” fell from one of the assailant’s pockets and “went flying out all over the sidewalk.” 

The fight didn’t last long before policemen, “who were in the right area at the right time,” put a stop to it. Patterson and her friend explained the situation to the police and then accompanied the two black men who had gotten jumped to the police station so they could explain what had happened.

Once at the station, they repeated their story to the magistrate, whose response was “frustrating.” 

“We … were told unless we were absolutely positive we could identify the men, there was nothing we could do,” Patterson wrote. The same was told to the two men involved in the attack. “Those two guys who were brutally jumped because they were black could have put away at least one or two of the neo-Nazis; but because of fear and a definite lack of encouragement on the part of the magistrate, the case was eventually dropped.”

“At that point,” Patterson wrote, “I started to get angry. I felt like the magistrate was subtly trying to dissuade us from taking action against the Nazis.”

Just “because someone is on the ‘side of the law’ and works for the police department doesn’t necessarily mean he is completely impartial and objective, even though he is supposed to be,” she said. “I firmly believe the magistrate used what little power he could to dissuade those two young men from pressing charges.” 

Patterson wasn’t sure whether the magistrate was racially motivated not to act, but regardless, “the magistrate was condescending, intimidating and ultimately lacking in objectivity. In a town filled with so much racial and class tension, the last thing we need is a magistrate who is either lazy or racially insensitive.”

In her 26 years of post-grad life since the article’s publication, Patterson has made some major changes. A married woman, she goes by Barbara Roy. She lives with her family in California, where she works as a publicist for a small entertainment firm. Charlottesville and the University, which she attended from 1989 to 1993, are not often on her mind. Even some details of the incident have faded somewhat from her mind after a quarter of a century.

“I remember the incident very, very well … but the whole aftermath was much more hazy,” Roy said in a phone interview. The sensation of “feeling frustrated” was stuck in her mind, but she admitted that she didn’t “really remember” the magistrate as the source of that frustration.

Although the assault is not as clear in her mind as it once was, it has had lasting repercussions on her adult life. For one, Roy said, it helped her decide to leave the city after graduation. 

“I had a nice little apartment that was close to the Corner, and I had come to really like Charlottesville,” she said. But after a conversation with her father — in which he encouraged her to move on — combined with the assault, she had to rethink her desire to stay. 

“In many ways [the incident] sort of left a bad taste in my mouth,” Roy said. “It was right before graduation and it was a pretty eye-opening and upsetting experience … I was ready to leave.”

After leaving Charlottesville, Roy briefly returned to her birthplace of Massachusetts and then worked alternately in California and D.C., jumping from coast to coast until settling in California in 1998. She and her family have been to visit friends in D.C. a few times since then, Roy said, but she’s never returned to Charlottesville.

Staying away from her alma mater isn’t “that intentional,” she said. “It wasn’t one of those things where I was like, ‘I’m never going back there again.’ It’s definitely not that. Charlottesville is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been … But looking back on it now, I do have some mixed feelings about whether it was the right place for me culturally.”

An English major, Roy said she loved the academics at the University. But coming from a multicultural background — a Jamaican father, a British mother and what she called an “international” hometown — the University seemed “very racially segregated.”

Outright discrimination because of her race or gender was not common for Roy in her time as an undergrad, she explained, but she described sometimes “feeling like I had to prove myself intellectually, academically having a place … that I didn’t just get in because of the color of my skin.”

And although she didn’t frequently experience discrimination, she could still recall a specific instance. Either in her third or fourth year — the details are somewhat obscure in this case, as well — Roy went with friends to a “predominately white” frat party somewhere on Rugby Road and was met with a surprise.

“I remember a bunch of the guys were in blackface — the traditional, minstrel blackface aesthetic,” she said. “I do remember feeling kind of stunned, just stunned. Like, why are these guys doing this? … It just felt really wrong.”

The racism Roy experienced in the University community, whether subtle or explicit, did little to prepare her for the display of violence she witnessed on the Corner. She said that, prior to the incident, she was unaware of a neo-Nazi presence in Charlottesville. “That’s what was so strange about it … I had no idea that they were there.”

In her Viewpoint piece, Roy wrote that “it is imperative for students to know Charlottesville isn’t the safe, quaint college town it is often made out to be.” A similar thought was on her mind, she said, when she tuned into the news in August 2017. The attack she had witnessed was the first thing that came to her mind. 

“These horrible people are descending on Charlottesville again,” she said. “I can’t believe it.” 

She acknowledged that August 11 and 12 constituted “way more of a horrific event” than her undergrad experience, but she couldn’t help but see the parallel. 

“The fact that people kind of subscribe to this notion of white supremacy, racial purity, whatever whatever, that they feel empowered and emboldened to come to Charlottesville and really put together a large congregation of people who subscribe to that ideology,” she said. “It just really struck a chord and made me really sad.”

Roy’s article did not go into extensive detail about what was happening in the community. 1993 articles from The Daily Progress help provide more information about the incident and others like it.

In the March 12, 1993 article “Neo-Nazi, friend charged in separate acts of violence,” the local paper describes both the incident witnessed by Roy — which, according to the article, took place March 6 of that year — and another assault committed by a different neo-Nazi which took place March 11.

This latter event involved 19-year-old Eric Hoffman, a neo-Nazi who lived in Charlottesville at the time, and a Puerto Rican man who in the article is referred to only as Edgar to protect the identity of himself and his family. According to the article, Edgar, who was in his early 20s, had been receiving death threats from Hoffman and a few other men. These escalated to an invasion of Edgar’s home March 11, when Hoffman and two others held a gun to the Puerto Rican man’s head and attempted to kill him. Edgar was able to escape by using a gun of his own that he had recently bought for fear of his life, although he did not shoot anyone, and Hoffman was taken into custody under the charge of attempted murder.

This article also described the March 6 attack witnessed by Roy, which had not yet been reported on by The Daily Progress. According to the article, one man — 23-year-old Christopher Andrew Tolley — was arrested that night on the Corner and taken into custody. 

Tolley, a self-described “Nazi and a semi-active skinhead,” argued his innocence in the incident. He denied the claim made against him that he had been handing out pamphlets for “The New Order,” a Lincoln, Nebraska-based white supremacist group founded by infamous neo-Nazi Gary Lauck. Instead, he said, he was helping another man pick up papers on the Corner “when he was hit from behind by two black men.”

The paper provided a quote from Tolley in which he attempted to prove his innocence. “‘I may be a bit crazy, but I’m not stupid,’” he said. “‘I’m not going to attack two big black guys.’”

Both incidents, however, clearly had some level of racial motivation. When Hoffman and his accomplices broke into Edgar’s home, the Puerto Rican man quoted Hoffman as saying, “‘You are all s–cs and we’re white, and it won’t stick.’”

The two men also knew each other. Tolley was visiting Hoffman from out of town and had been staying at his apartment at the time of his arrest.

The day after the article describing these two attacks was published, The Daily Progress ran a follow-up piece entitled “Police: Band of neo-Nazis is formed.” The article claimed that “a small band of neo-Nazi skinheads has organized in the Charlottesville area and may be responsible for a growing number of what could be racially motivated attacks on minorities.”

This information was provided by Detective Robert Frazier, who at the time had been monitoring local neo-Nazi activity. “‘There are about 10 to 15 local skinheads in the area right now,’” Frazier said in the article. Some of them were apparently even younger than the 19-year-old Hoffman — a teenage eyewitness to the March 6 attack claimed “he recognized some of the skinheads” as his classmates at Albemarle High School.

The police department had received reports that the skinheads were practicing “military-style drills” in various parts of the city, but at the time of the article’s publication, these were not confirmed. Frazier did say, however, that the Charlottesville neo-Nazis were the “foot soldiers of the Nazi party.” He also said of the group, “They are trying to ignite a white revolt.”

Roy’s Viewpoint piece was the first of several articles published by The Cavalier Daily which addressed the neo-Nazi activity in Charlottesville. News briefs describing rallies like “Concerned Black Students,” organized by the Black Student Alliance, were published, along with a variety of Viewpoint pieces concerning race relations in the student community.

Alfred Toole — who, at the time, was a second-year in the college and vice chair for programs in the Black Student Alliance — published one such piece on April 23, 1993. Entitled “Voice of concern for every student,” the article described a few different University-oriented issues, with the March 6 attack at its center, and how the BSA dealt with each of them. 

“In the case of the neo-Nazis,” Toole wrote, “many people will blow them off. In a few weeks, the uproar will all die down and disappear.”

He criticized the “University community’s apathy” regarding the attacks. “Does someone have to be killed before we consider acting? One attack is one too many.”

Toole also expressed hope that “students at the University can get beyond race. We must learn to have compassion not only for our race but also for our fellow man.” He finished his appeal by acknowledging that the BSA is not infallible, using the organization’s missteps and subsequent reevaluation as a universal model. “The past is a hard thing to forget; it shouldn’t be forgotten,” he wrote. “But people must not dwell on the past; we must live in the present. And we must learn from the past.”

Toole’s post-grad life has followed a drastically different trajectory than that of Roy. After taking some classes at the University’s law school, he decided to drop out and work in the city instead. Toole worked briefly as a paralegal but soon moved to the two fields which would dominate his adult life — the school and the church.

Today, he’s devoted nearly two decades to the public school systems of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and the same amount of time to Waynesboro Church of Christ. Toole currently works full-time as a Learning Technology Integrator and part time as the church’s youth minister.

According to Toole, both jobs center around a goal he first realized during his time as an undergrad, through BSA — to “have a positive impact by serving.” 

“The Black Student Alliance raised awareness and … made the present and the future better,” Toole said. This mission statement led him to get involved with the BSA, and it also led him to write the Viewpoint concerning the neo-Nazi activity. 

Much of the piece speaks of cyclical human behavior — getting upset about an instance of discrimination or racially-motivated violence, only to forget about it until the next incidence occurs. As someone who’s spent his entire adult life in the Charlottesville area, Toole is no stranger to this sort of behavior. He’s not judgmental of it, though. 

“I think all of us fall into patterns of normalcy just so we can function and survive,” Toole said. “I don’t think anyone could sustain a fever pitch reaction.”

More important, he explained, is how people react whenever the newest act of discrimination is committed. “When you have those cycles that happen, where are you on the continuum? Are you one of the people who move the needle, or do you let other people move the needle?”

His choice of language brings to mind the words of Dave Matthews at his historic Concert for Charlottesville, when he said, “I feel like tonight maybe moved the needle a little bit in a good direction.” Matthews’ activism, however — that is, activism which presents itself in the form of a star-studded musical event with fanfare to spare — is not the sort of community service which interests Toole.

For a better understanding of Toole’s motivations, just consider what he wants written on his tombstone, according to his website — “Here lies the stone sunk that caused all those ripples.” Toole doesn’t want to be in the limelight, he explained, “but I do want to make sure I’ve had an impact wherever I’ve been.”

Despite loving the “community aspect” of Charlottesville and its “slower pace of life,” Toole acknowledged that the city has a lot of areas that can, and need to benefit from positive impacts. When he witnessed the events of Aug. 11 and 12, he said, he had no idea that the tragedy would be on such a large scale. 

“As a graduate of U.Va., I was outraged, I was shocked, I was embarrassed, I was in some ways ashamed,” Toole said.

He was quick to criticize, however, the correspondingly large-scale media coverage of the rallies, arguing that such a focus on the negative “made it seem like we were back a couple decades to a lot of people.” As befits his character and his professions, Toole thought there should have been more emphasis on the “overwhelming response” from the community that he first described seeing at Heather Heyer’s funeral. 

“Yes, you have this horrible event that happened,” Toole said. “But you also have this amazing outpouring of love and … people saying, ‘This is not welcome in our community. This is unacceptable.’”

The reduction of Charlottesville to “a hashtag” frustrates Toole. It’s a trend he’s noticed of both media organizations and the country at large failing to see the “larger systems at work.” 

Toole cited several instances from his life which he said pointed towards larger issues. When he was a law school student, the O.J. Simpson trial was taking place. Toole said he was struck by the irony of his white classmates suddenly bemoaning the “failure” of the criminal justice system when Simpson was acquitted, while Toole had continually criticized the same system for charging racial minorities for crimes they had not committed. “It was like a total flip-flop.”

Similarly, Toole discussed the larger problems associated with the racial “achievement gap” which he has experienced firsthand through his public school employment. “I shouldn’t be able to predict that an African-American male is probably gonna flunk geometry…” he said. “Those numbers shouldn’t be predictive but they still are.”

Toole neatly summed up his anxieties about larger systems by returning to the idea of patterns in a community. “When we realize a paradigm is not working the way it’s supposed to or seems to be fostering a negative pattern, how do we change that to be a positive pattern?”

In a Daily Progress article published March 23, 1993 and titled “Charge against neo-Nazi dropped,” Tolley’s court case and its dismissal are briefly described. The judge — possibly Roy’s “magistrate,” though this is not verified — dropped the case since it “wasn’t clear from testimony who started a fight.” Tolley said he planned to leave town soon afterwards. Judging by the lack of subsequent articles published about him, he seems to have made good on this promise.

So what became of the local neo-Nazis and their planned “white revolt?” According to The Daily Progress, nothing — mentions of the radical hate group allegedly forming in Charlottesville virtually disappear after the March 13 article identifying them. Maybe their newfound publicity spooked the supremacists enough to make them retreat back to the shadows of society. Detective Frazier, the policeman who was quoted as tracking the group’s activity, died in 2002, so asking him was not possible.

Frazier did say in the March 13 article that “the Charlottesville skinhead group isn’t that active until friends from out of town visit,” mimicking the “out of town” rhetoric that some attempted to use in the wake of Aug. 11 and 12 to absolve Charlottesville of racial guilt. Another strange parallel between the neo-Nazi incidents — purely coincidental, it seems, but still unusual — is that Spike Lee made his first visit to the University about a month after the events on the Corner. The next time he would return to speak publicly in Charlottesville would be in Nov. 2017, when he said, “If we don’t acknowledge the history of this country, we can’t move forward” — in itself, a mirror of Toole’s 1993 suggestion to “live in the present” and “learn from the past.”

In her article, Roy urged “students to know Charlottesville isn’t the safe, quaint college town it is often made out to be.” Decades later, Toole watched with dismay as his city “became a hashtag.” Essentially, both are arguing against the same thing — reduction of a place to one or two of its qualities, whether positive or negative, fails to adequately depict the place.

There are always larger forces at play, Toole said, and he’s focused his adult life on addressing them. He has his community — a flawed, complicated community, but a community nonetheless — to help him in his efforts.  “Sometimes you want to dig up a root and you keep digging, but the root is just so big … bigger than you thought,” Toole said. “My hope would be that when people are digging at these systems and trying to dig them up, they take breaks and pass the shovel to other people who can help.”

An Eyesore, a Hazard and a Millionaire

The story of the Dewberry Hotel

Words by Spencer Philps. Photos by Riley Walsh.


At the corner of 2nd and East Main Street in Charlottesville sits an eleven-story, concrete skeleton of a building that looms imposingly above the historic pedestrian Downtown Mall. 

The first few floors are boarded up with large plywood sheets that appear to be warping, and the nine floors above them remain fully exposed, with metal framing fitting between the raw concrete structure. The granite front of the building, what was once the Central Fidelity bank, is filled with debris, milk crates and piles of branches. Local residents have complained that the building is infested with rats and other animals. 


This year marked the 11th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the Landmark Hotel, and there is little to show for it. According to the Dewberry Group’s website, the hotel is now poised to become The Laramore apartment complex. However, the construction would not comply with current zoning, according to The Daily Progress, and the completion of the project remains mysterious.

Conceived by Charlottesville developer Lee Danielson and financed largely by the wealthy entrepreneur Halsey Minor, a University graduate and descendant of the locally-prominent Minor family — two on-grounds buildings, Halsey Hall and Minor Hall, bear the names of his relatives — the nine-story boutique hotel was to bring over a hundred rooms to the heart of downtown Charlottesville. 

Dave Norris, the mayor of Charlottesville at the time, was optimistic about the project, and at the groundbreaking celebration, Minor noted that the hotel would be “like nothing people have ever seen.” 

After over 11 years of promises, delays, protracted litigation and bankruptcies, the hotel on 2nd and East Main is hardly closer to being completed than it was ten years ago, and the patience of many Charlottesville residents who see it as a blight on their downtown skyline has worn thin. 

“People are upset because that location is literally in the center of the Downtown Mall, so one, its taking up this prime real estate spot on the Downtown Mall, and then two, it just looks terrible,” said James Burger, a University student who grew up in the area and worked in the Downtown Mall area during his time in high school. 

“For as long as I lived here, it has just sat there, and nothing has been done about it,” Burger said.  

Halsey Minor, Lee Danielson and the Landmark Hotel 

The story of what led to the uncompleted tower cannot be explained without exploring the early relationship of Halsey Minor and Lee Danielson. Danielson, a local developer who led the Downtown Mall revitalization efforts in the 1990s, first purchased the land that would contain the hotel in 2000. 

In the following years, Danielson tried in vain to construct a hotel on the property, selling it and then repurchasing the land in 2007. That year, he entered into a partnership with Minor, whom he had known since 1998, to fund construction of the Landmark Hotel. 

The construction of the hotel grew turbulent just months after groundbreaking. Concerns grew around funding sources and the institutional lenders, and rumors spread that workers were not getting paid. Builders began to place liens on the property. By late 2009 and early 2010, construction on the hotel had stopped entirely, and Danielson announced that he had been fired by Minor.

Minor accused Danielson and a bank of colluding against him to drive up prices and filed lawsuits against the two — Danielson and the bank filed suits of their own against Minor. This was the beginning of several years of litigation and counterpunches — by 2010, Minor was involved in eight Landmark Hotel-related lawsuits in both Virginia and Georgia. That same year Minor Family Hotels, the company of which Minor served as the CEO, went bankrupt. 

Simultaneously, Minor was dealing with other problems. In 2009, Sotheby’s, the art broker, claimed that Minor had failed to pay them back for three pieces of art, and a year later a judge ordered Minor to pay them $6.6 million. Additionally, a large farm he had bought near Colonial Williamsburg for $15.3 million to raise horses went bankrupt in 2011. According to a New York Times article, in one of his art-related lawsuits, his own lawyer described Minor to the jury as “rude” and “unlikeable.”

This lavish spending, coupled with the financial recession and the multiplying lawsuits, forced him to file for bankruptcy in 2013.

From the Landmark to the Dewberry Hotel


In June of 2012, the Landmark Hotel was put up for auction. Only two bidders entered, and the hotel project was ultimately awarded to Atlanta-based developer John Dewberry and his firm, Dewberry Capital, for $6.25 million. The project was renamed to the Dewberry Hotel. 

Dewberry, a former Georgia Tech quarterback-turned well-known Atlanta-based developer, promised to pour millions of dollars in additions to the hotel, in line with Dewberry Capital’s underlying strategy of snatching up abandoned properties and continuing the construction.

A profile of John Dewberry in Bloomberg Businessweek noted his practices of sitting on valuable lots across the south, referring to him as a “developer who won’t develop.” The Bloomberg article also revealed that he currently sits on some of the most valuable properties in Atlanta, lots upon which he has yet to build. The article included quotes from people who knew him that referred to Dewberry as “narcissistic” and having an ego that gets in the way of his work.

At the time of his acquisition of the Landmark Hotel, Dewberry was in the process of renovating an old federal building in Charleston into a hotel that would be known as the Dewberry Charleston. They maintained that they would be completing that project first before starting on the Dewberry Hotel in Charlottesville.

In 2013, the City of Charlottesville ordered Dewberry to better secure the property, as it had become “detrimental to the safety, health and welfare of the community,” as people had begun to trespass and vandalize the property. Dewberry responded in a fiery letter that stated he had already done enough to secure it and went on to write that “I can never remember a property owner being held responsible for these acts of trespassing and vandalism. The perpetrator of these petty crimes is sought, not the owner of the property.”

In the letter, he also expressed his anger at the lack of progress on the project. 

“Folks, I am much more frustrated than you. None of you have spent $7mm (and climbing) on this asset.” he wrote. He again reiterated that he would not begin work on the site until his property in Charleston was finished.

But by June of 2016, the Dewberry Charleston had opened its doors to laudatory praise. Despite Dewberry’s promise to begin construction on the Charlottesville Dewberry Hotel soon after, essentially no progress was made to the building. 

In the fall of 2016, Dewberry asked the City of Charlottesville for an incentive that would allow him to recuperate the taxes that had accrued on the property so that he could continue construction.

City Council approved the terms of an agreement with Dewberry that guaranteed 75 parking spaces in the Water Street Parking Garage and substantial tax breaks that were contingent on Dewberry investing $20 million in the project and essentially complete the building by September of 2020. However, City Council voted down the plan in December 2017.

Michael Payne, formerly of the Charlottesville Arm of the Democratic Socialists of America and current candidate for City Council, was heavily involved with the community protest of these public incentives being offered to Dewberry. Payne noted Dewberry’s notorious reputation of sitting on land in desirable areas and fears other developers may follow his example. 

“[The Charlottesville Democratic Socialists of America campaign] was trying to call attention to Dewberry’s business practices, and how he’s a bad actor, but also to oppose the City’s idea of giving him public money and public resources. I don’t think that that is a good practice, and I also think that it sets a bad precedent if the City gives into a developer in that way,” Payne said. “It creates a precedent that other developers could say, ‘Well, he did it, why don’t we try the same thing,’ and that’s something that’s actually happened in a lot of cities.” 

Payne also noted how Charlottesville residents are still concerned about the Dewberry Hotel. 

“I would say at the public forums and meet-and-greets that I’ve done, there’s almost always at least one question about the Dewberry Hotel, because people are upset about the fact that we have this big eyesore on the Downtown Mall,” Payne said. 

He urged City Council to act decisively and fast to stop Dewberry from hurting the city more. 

“Council needs to have a unified negotiating strategy,” Payne said. “It can’t waiver and go back and forth. They need to know exactly what their plan is going to be, and again, I would favor the City taking an aggressive negotiating strategy because at the end of the day John Dewberry is just trying to rip the City off.”

Looking ahead 

Not much apparent progress has been made to the building since the vote. In the spring of 2018, the Board of Architectural Review approved Dewberry’s plans to add new height and massing, and there are reports of meetings held with the City to discuss adding retail space on the hotel ground floor. 

According to the Dewberry Group’s website, the hotel is now poised to become The Laramore apartment complex. However, if the apartments are over about 12 stories, the building may not comply with zoning code according to The Daily Progress, and the completion of the project remains mysterious. 

Dewberry Capital has remained silent and difficult to contact on its plans, to the chagrin of the residents who have to look at the building everyday. They did not reply to a request for comment.

Jose Gomez III, a lecturer of structural engineering at the University, said certain precautions ought to be taken before continuing construction on the project. 

“The developer would need to, first and foremost get a credentialed structural engineer to go in there and do an extensive inspection. You’d ask then what [is] the remediation that I need to do, and then you could start pricing it out” Gomez said. “I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be still a viable investment to then complete … it’s not that far gone.”

Gomez explained that there could be cracks in the concrete that have filled with water, or worse, pigeon droppings, making the site structurally unsound. 

“One of the things I’d be concerned with, and I’m dead serious, is pigeon poop,” Gomez added. “That’s a very acidic material, and so if you have the pigeon poop, which I guarantee you do, it’s a pigeon haven … that pigeon poop mixes with water and comes into the concrete cracks, and then the pigeon poop migrates to the steel and then you’ve got a highly corrosive material sitting there.” 

Gomez was also concerned about the plywood sheeting that had been placed around the first few floors of the hotel, fearing it could hurt somebody. 

“There was a case where a sheet of it fell down one day on the side street,” he said. “It’s in bad shape. The plywood, over a short period of time, when exposed to water, will just come apart … and I really think that the immediate safety issue is that plywood … last time I was there it was looking really bad.” 

Like many others in the City, Gomez was fed up with the project. 

“It’s just so frustrating — it gives a black eye to the community, it gives a black eye to the profession … I blame the developer, they have the purse strengths,” he said. “There’s no wins here. It’s a loss for everybody.”

Our American Energy

What the possible construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline means to those opposed

Words by Juliana Callen and Kasey Roper. Illustration by Max Patten.

Editor’s note: abcd talked to four people in the Charlottesville community opposed to the construction of the ACP. We attempted to interview Dominion in April, and after reaching out again in the fall, we were not able to get a response before publishing. This article will be updated as more information is received.

“This is Our American Energy,” claimed Dominion Energy in a 2017 advertisement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline which would transport natural gas, a non-renewable resource.

Today, Dominion Energy is still advocating for the construction of the ACP, and debate continues over what “Our American Energy” is. 

While the proposed pipeline would not cross Charlottesville directly, it would still impact the community and those nearby, as it would run through Augusta, Nelson and Buckingham counties if completed. Additionally, some of the controversial issues surrounding the ACP’s construction including environmental concerns are all too familiar to residents.

Pipeline Background & Purpose

“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a critical infrastructure project that will strengthen the economic vitality, environmental health and energy security of the Mid-Atlantic region,” the ACP’s website states

 In 2015, Dominion Energy submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for construction of the ACP after doing extensive research on its need and possible environmental effects. FERC then conducted its own research and compiled an environmental impact statement, eventually approving the project.

Artboard 1@2x
Key acronyms of organizations involved in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline issue and events. 

The 600 miles of pipes were initially designed to cross the Appalachian Trails, cut through the Blue Ridge Mountains and claim vast amounts of public and private land through eminent domain laws.

Eminent domain laws permit governments and other agencies to confiscate land for necessary public goods or services. The most common use is for the U.S. Department of Transportation to confiscate land in order to construct highways. 

Ellen Bassett, associate professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning in the School of Architecture, explained that Dominion Energy has this power of eminent domain because it is a utility service. It provides consumers with a product — electricity that is generated by natural gas — and pipelines transport the natural gas needed to provide this product. Bassett compares the issue of eminent domain regarding the ACP to that of a highway. 

“Highways [are] pretty similar to a pipeline,” Bassett said. “You’re letting things flow. Commerce is flowing. Cars are flowing. Energy is flowing.” 

Class of 2019 alumna who double-majored in Biology and Music, Alice Clair, has actively challenged the pipeline since its proposal in 2015. Originally from Nelson County, Clair was stricken by the implications of the ACP’s use of eminent domain laws. 

“In America, we’ve been given the right to own private land and to protect it from the government, and here is direct governmental legislation that’s allowing them to displace you from your private land on the basis of a private corporation — for literally private corporate gains,” Clair said

Though it has claimed land from landowners and the ACP would cross several national parks, Dominion has made over 300 route adjustments, including those to avoid sources of drinking water, wildlife habitats and sensitive geological features.   

Some of Dominion Energy’s main reasons for constructing the pipeline are to create jobs and stimulate the economy, in addition to bringing energy to parts of North Carolina.

Since Dominion Energy uses natural gas to provide electricity to its consumers, it has the power of eminent domain as long as the pipeline is considered necessary.

An ACP employee works on the pipes before they get distributed to the areas they will be installed. Photo from the ACP’s Media Center.

Environmental Considerations

Third-year Global Studies & Environmental Studies double-major Eliza Fisher is concerned about the impacts the construction of the ACP would have on the environment. 

According to Fisher, Dominion Energy is encouraging the continued use of nonrenewable resources by constructing the pipeline. Rather than building “the fossil fuel industry,” Fisher believes the United States should be creating sustainable methods of energy consumption.

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A worker helps guide the pipe into the ground. Photo from ACP’s Media Center.

“We need to be acting now for a positive climate future,” Fisher said. “The pipelines that are already [in Virginia] aren’t even serving at capacity — and they shouldn’t be, we should stop fueling the demand [for] natural gas.” 

Dominion Energy claims that the ACP will improve air quality, since burning natural gas releases fewer carbon emissions than burning coal. While it is true that natural gas burns “cleaner” than coal, Bassett points out that it is not a sustainable energy source. 

“It’s still not a renewable,” Bassett said. “It’s not solar, it’s not wind. It’s still an energy source that is certainly contributing to climate change.”

For Fisher, the ultimate concern over the pipeline comes down to its abuse of power and its negative impacts for energy consumption. For Bassett, the ACP masks deeper concerns about consumers’ dependence on nonrenewable resources. 

“My takeaway is [that] the pipeline is almost a symptom of something deeper,” Bassett said, “which is [that] we really have to come to grips with how we are heavily dependent upon petroleum products.”

Rather than relying on non-renewable resources, Bassett suggested that America shifts its source of energy to renewable resources, such as wind, solar and hydraulics.  

“We have to have an energy revolution.”


Dominion Energy assures landowners and environmentalists that land will be restored once construction of the pipeline is complete. This is one such restored area. The path of the pipeline can be seen, since no trees can be planted above it. Photo from ACP’s Media Center. To Bassett, this loss is devastating and would take away part of what she loves about her state. 

“What’s so beautiful about this part of Virginia is we have so much forest cover,” Bassett said

Yet, the ACP would negatively impact viewsheds, or a view of a landscape from a particular vantage point, according to Jonathan Gendzier, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who is working on court cases it filed against the ACP. 

“Once construction is complete there will be a permanent impact to the viewsheds from the trail and from some special overlooks that the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway access in that area,” Gendzier said.

Environmental Racism & Social Justice Considerations 

Bassett explained that companies are more likely to place things like factories or, in the case of the ACP, compressor stations that can be potentially detrimental to the health of people and land in minority communities. 

In the United States, minority communities, such as historically African-American neighborhoods or Native American lands, are often infringed upon for the purposes of industrialization. 

“In Charlottesville we talk about Vinegar Hill, which is the old African-American neighborhood that got basically wiped out,” Bassett said. 

During the 1960s, Vinegar Hill, a 20-acre neighborhood between the University and the Downtown Mall, was demolished as part of an urban renewal project to expand Charlottesville and build apartments and shops. Hundreds of African-American families and businesses were displaced from their community. However, the land stood empty for decades and was eventually paved over with parking lots. The community members voices were not heard, since a poll-tax prevented the majority of them from voting on the project.

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Buckingham County residents, joined by former Vice President Al Gore, protested the construction of the Union Hill compressor station in February of 2018, claiming the construction was environmental racism. Photo courtesy Eliza Fisher.

A similar fate lingers overhead of Union Hill, a historically African-American neighborhood in Buckingham County, Va. about an hour’s drive away from Charlottesville. The ACP received approval to construct one of three proposed compressor stations in direct proximity to the neighborhood, which is still inhabited today. However, this construction has been stalled along with that of the pipeline. 

Compressor stations are a central part of natural gas transportation because they help maintain the pressure of gas so that it can travel through the pipeline across different elevations and temperatures. The locations of these stations are typically strategically placed to counteract the effects of topography, which impact the pressure inside the pipeline. 

However, according to Bassett, the location selected for this compressor station is “a classic environmental justice or environmental racism question.” This is a concern for her because it seemingly ignores the voices of current residents, who have been actively opposing the pipeline and compressor station by holding rallies. 

Fisher agreed that this is problematic, adding that the compressor station would be a site of constant loud noise and serious health and pollution concerns. 

The proposed location of the ACP’s compressor station is not a unique occurrence, but rather a pattern. 

“We tend to put the least desirable or most polluting health, sort of deleterious land uses near minority communities,” Bassett said

The Union Hill community has actively been protesting the construction of this compressor station. Some members of the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, a University organization, have become directly involved with the Union Hill community by attending protests and discussions led by famous environmental activists, including Al Gore, and residents of Buckingham County.  

Fisher, a member of VSEC, believes that those who stand up and practice environmental activism are remarkably brave.  

“I think that given the stakes of something like this pipeline — how big the stakes are — people who put themselves in positions of extreme vulnerability through direct action are incredibly courageous,” she said. 

Though she has not been directly involved with Buckingham County, Fisher has made an effort to learn as much as she can about the ACP issue. 

“I think learning as much as you can about it is extremely important,” Fisher said. “And I think listening to the communities on the front line of the resistance is extremely important in just seeing what sort of support that they need.”

One example of environmental activism is a tree-sit, which occurs when people construct a small platform in a tree slated to be cut down in order to protest deforestation and protect the environment. 

Tree-sits have successfully stopped construction of pipelines in the past, which Fisher finds encouraging because it gains press for the movement. In April 2018, tree-sits by Red Terry and Minor Terry successfully delayed the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a fracked natural gas pipeline planned to cross 303 miles in West Virginia and Virginia. 

“It’s great to bring attention to these issues if someone’s living in a tree,” Fisher said. “There have been Washington Post articles written about it.” 

Not everyone is able to tree-sit, though. At the University, students turn to student-run organizations, such as VSEC, for involvement opportunities.

According to its Facebook page, VSEC “unifies students across Virginia to create a network for advocacy, education and action.” Some of its main concerns are the use of fossil fuels and the intersection of environmental activism and social justice

VSEC partnered with The Ties That Bind—a #NoPipelines Community Collaborative Art and Story Project coordinated by eco-artist and poet Amelia L. Williams. They held an event on April 14th to create braids, ropes, festoons and swags. These will be added to a larger project that links together fabrics from multiple communities, symbolizing how these communities are braided together in their collective effort to protect the health of the environment.

Alice Clair’s protest against the pipeline is her music. Photo courtesy Clara Castle.

Also taking action in opposition to the ACP is Clair, whose music has been influenced by the issue. She performs both solo, with a folk band and with her band, the BLDRS. 

“It is very clear what is right and what is wrong in this situation, and I’ve used my music I guess as a platform,” Clair said. “I’ve written many songs in opposition to the pipeline.”

Taking a similar approach as Clair is the SUN SiNG Collective, which is working to create a new No Pipeline anthem and song video to stop the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. They had a concert at Jefferson Theater this past April. The SUN SiNG Collective is an event organized by the group Water Is Life. Protect It, which consists of environmentalists across Virginia working to protect clean water. 

Clair spoke about some of the fundamental concerns surrounding the ACP issue, namely, the public’s lack of concern for Dominion Energy’s use of eminent domain laws, as well as for the construction of the ACP in general.  

“If we as informed, educated, privileged citizens of the United States don’t pay attention to the first people getting [affected] by legislation like this, the first people that are gonna be attacked by this kind of overstepping of governmental bounds, then we’re gonna be next,” Clair said. “And really we shouldn’t even view it like that — we should see it as our duty to keep this Earth as intact as possible.”

The Future of the Pipeline

While Clair and Fisher are actively strategizing ways to stop construction, the fate of the ACP will ultimately be decided in the courts.

SELC, whose headquarters is located on West Main St. in Charlottesville, worked on two court cases that challenged the construction of the ACP. 

On behalf of the Sierra Club and the Defenders of Wildlife and Virginia Wilderness Committee, SELC filed a legal challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion, which, according to the FWS, is a document that states the opinion of the [FWS] as to whether or not the Federal action is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.” 

The permit issued by the FWS was blocked by the Virginia Fourth Circuit of Appeals, as Gendzier hoped, which he says could cause serious delays in construction. However, Dominion told its investors in an earnings conference call that the permit would most likely be reissued by the end of 2019. So, while construction in Virginia has temporarily been halted, the pipeline still may be built. 

In August 2018, SELC and the Appalachian Mountain Advocates, on behalf of 13 conservation groups, filed a lawsuit against FERC over the approval it gave the ACP. As the overarching permit for the project, this case challenges the underlying necessity of the ACP and is set to be heard in the fall. 

“I think it’s important for the public to understand that the claimed need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to power natural gas for electricity generation in Virginia — it just isn’t there,” Gendzier said. “This pipeline is unnecessary.” 

In an article they published online, SELC asserted that the pipeline is not justified by challenging the initial arguments in favor of the ACP, such as that it is needed for power plants, that it would reduce utility bills for residents and that it would produce jobs. 

Whether the pipeline is legally justified or not, its proposal has raised questions of social justice and environmental racism. 

As the ACP court cases unfold, Gendzier emphasized the fallacy in the ACP’s mission to provide energy to those who need it and suggested a different motive. 

“The bottom line is that we do not need the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to generate electricity in Virginia,” Gendzier said.