City To Seize Land of Homeless Hangout in Southeast Roanoke

The city’s planned seizure marks the second time Roanoke has taken over properties that owe taxes and where people have set up camp.

Roanoke City intends to seize a strip of land that has become a hangout spot and site of littering at the gateway to Southeast Roanoke. The city’s planned seizure marks the second time Roanoke has used a new state law to take over properties that owe taxes and where people have set up camp. PHOTO BY HENRI GENDREAU FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

Roanoke City intends to seize a strip of land that has become a hangout spot and site of littering at the gateway to Southeast Roanoke.

“These are the infamous three properties adjacent to the Citgo gas station” off Elm Avenue, City Manager Bob Cowell told City Council Tuesday.

“Trespassers frequent the Property, which becomes routinely littered with trash and other debris posing a threat to the public health, safety, and welfare,” a city report says of the sloped wooded area, which is roughly one-tenth of an acre. “The City regularly incurs funds to remove litter and solid waste from the Property.”

The city’s planned seizure marks the second time Roanoke has used a new state law to take over properties that owe taxes and where people have set up camp.

Last April, the city took 4.6 acres near the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport that had become a makeshift homeless encampment. Since then, the city erected a fence around the property and expanded a stormwater pond behind a Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Cowell said Tuesday he is not sure yet whether the city will erect a fence; the first step will be to post no trespassing signs.

“It allows us to maintain control of the property so we are no longer relying on someone who owns property from out of state to actually keep people off of the property,” Cowell said.

Roanoke has also been using that property power to transfer dilapidated houses and vacant land directly to the city’s land bank, which conveys the properties to housing developers.

Records list the owner of the land near the gas station, Beneche Germilus, as having addresses in Roanoke and Brooklyn, New York. The city was able to take over the property because the owner owes nearly $7,000 in delinquent real estate taxes.

Two weeks ago, Roanoke City Circuit Court Judge David Carson granted David Collins, a city attorney, the power to make the transfer to the city.

City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to proceed.

Besides littering, Karan Adhikari, who owns the P&N Market at the Citgo gas station, says the biggest issue with the property is bonfires at night; nearby residents or passing motorists call the fire department, which then must respond to the area. PHOTO BY HENRI GENDREAU FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

Karan Adhikari, who owns the P&N Market at the Citgo gas station, recalls telling the city a few years ago that he would pay half the cost to erect a fence around the land.

“It was bothering me,” Adhikari said between sales of Marlboro Blacks and scratch lottery tickets. “The property owner was not doing anything.”

The property is a few blocks away from the Roanoke Rescue Mission, the city's largest homeless shelter.

Besides littering, Adhikari says the biggest issue is bonfires at night; nearby residents or passing motorists call the fire department, which then must respond to the area.

“The homeless people make a camp on top,” Adhikari said. “They go out and drink a beer and make a mess.”

Otherwise, Adhikari says nobody who hangs out on the land has caused him problems and he hasn’t observed any crimes.

“I’m used to it,” he said.

A few people gathered on the property recently shared a blunt.

“They could make a proper park here,” said one man, who declined to give his name. “Put in a garbage can.”

Another man pointed out that the gas station has a garbage can.

“I’m out here enjoying myself,” the first man said. “My life is my life. It’s nobody else’s but mine.”

During another visit, one man — “they call me ‘New York’” — said he moved from that city to Roanoke about 13 months for a home improvement subcontracting job. He said the person who hired him turned out to be different than he expected and the work fell through.

New York appeared nonplussed at the possibility that the city could fence off what he described as “holy land.”

“I’m a traveler,” he said.

Motioning out over the embankment filled with bottles, plastic bags and cigarette cartons, he added, “All you see is the misery of the people, that’s what it is.”

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