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2017-02-22 / Real Estate

County to host revitalization forum

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER

The host of a popular Saturday morning radio program will headline the 2017 Empowering Neighborhoods Forum Feb. 25 at the Career and Technical Center on Hull Street Road.

Richard McKann, a master tradesman and contractor who hosts “The Home Improvement Show” on WRVA-AM 1140, will offer a presentation on home renovation and hold a question-and-answer session during the forum, a free event that is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. and conclude at 12:30 p.m.

Other industry experts will be on hand to talk with attendees about ways they can breathe new life into their homes.

“Everyone can benefit from this,” said Bethany Halle, chairwoman of the county’s Revitalize Our Communities Committee, which is hosting the forum. “It offers all kinds of ideas about things you can do to improve your home. You can stay for an hour or all four hours.” The Board of Supervisors established the Revitalize Our Communities Committee in 2006, but the committee is taking on an expanded role now that county leaders are increasingly focused on maintaining both public and private property.

Community revitalization is a central theme of the county’s comprehensive plan.

As the Chesterfield County school system continues to renovate or replace several of its aging buildings with funds from a 2013 bond referendum, the county government is hoping to spur new investment in adjacent neighborhoods by putting in sidewalks and other infrastructure improvements.

Carl Schlaudt, the county’s revitalization manager, also is working with community groups, civic leaders and homeowners associations to encourage homeowners to keep up with maintenance of their properties.

“It’s harder to do in neighborhoods that don’t have mandatory homeowners associations,” he said.

Because many of Chesterfield’s older subdivisions lack associations to police neighborhood upkeep, the county is devoting local and federal resources to that effort.

The Planning Department has two inspectors to perform proactive code compliance checks in older neighborhoods that are eligible for federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

The Building Inspection Department also has a neighborhood enhancement program that focuses on enforcement of the Virginia Property Maintenance Code.

“If a neighborhood declines, it costs a whole lot more to bring it back up,” said Mark Strickler, community revitalization director in Henrico County.

Unlike Henrico, which has 23 employees in its community revitalization office and receives about $2 million annually in federal funds to administer maintenance assistance programs for low-income homeowners, Chesterfield has taken a more decentralized approach.

Chesterfield has distributed more than $834,000 in grants over the past two fiscal years to Project: HOMES, a nonprofit that operates a home rehabilitation program for low-income individuals.

Another nonprofit, the Richmond chapter of Habitat for Humanity, has received $190,000 in grant money from the county over the same period for its critical home repair program.

“One of the important things the county is doing is encouraging neighbors to help each other out,” Halle said. “There are people who don’t have the money or the ability to improve their properties. If we don’t band together, the situation is just going to get worse.”

Schlaudt said that Chesterfield has borrowed some good ideas from Henrico – most notably, it now produces a home modernization guide that is available at home improvement retailers (Lowe’s, The Home Depot and Pleasant’s Hardware) and can be downloaded from the county’s website (there’s a link to the guide on the Revitalization Office webpage).

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last December to expand the county’s rehabilitation tax exemption program, which is similar to a program that has been critical to the redevelopment of Richmond’s older neighborhoods.

The program encourages citizens to improve their properties by allowing them to avoid paying taxes on the increased value for a specified length of time.

“We think this is an important part of rehabilitation and revitalization that we’re working toward,” said Kim Marble, vice president of the Jefferson Davis Association, a nonprofit group of civic and business leaders that seeks solutions to economic challenges along Chesterfield’s stretch of historic U.S. Route 1.

There will be an information session at the Empowering Neighborhoods Forum about the program, which applies to residential and commercial properties 25 years old and older.

More than half of the county’s single-family housing stock now falls into that category. ¦

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