2009-05-27 / Front Page

A collective effort

Civic organization promotes cleanup in Jeff Davis area
By Katherine Houstoun

Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Volunteers pick up leaves at the Alice Luck Neighborhood Park off Castlewood Road during a neighborhood cleanup in Ampthill.
Sometimes all it takes to start a revolution is a rake and a can of paint. At least that's what the Jefferson Davis Association (JDA) is hoping as they launch a new initiative called "Building Community - Block by Block."

The program focuses on rehabilitating dilapidated houses and improving the curb appeal of others, with the hope of kick-starting neighborhood cleanup efforts and, ultimately, attracting new families to the area.

"The [idea] is to highlight the advantages of the neighborhoods along Jeff Davis and to enhance those properties so that they're even more attractive to new homebuyers, and also to contribute to the overall revitalization of the Jefferson Davis corridor," said Ree Hart, the chair of JDA's redevelopment committee.

The JDA, which was created in 1992 to address the revitalization challenges facing the Jefferson Davis corridor, has spent much of its existence tending to the commercial needs of the area. Now, motivated in part by the economic downturn, it's setting its sights on the residential neighborhoods along the historic Route 1 thoroughfare, starting with a neighborhood cleanup that took place in Ampthill earlier this month.

Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer
June Patterson from Chesterfield County Waste Resource Recovery uses a boom truck to clear debris during a recent neighborhood cleanup in Ampthill.
During the cleanup, which is hosted annually by the Ampthill Civic Association, close to 60 volunteers assisted seniors with yard cleanup, tidied a neighborhood park and disposed of excess yard trimmings. The JDA redevelopment committee hopes to see similar events take place in other neighborhoods along the corridor.

And there is plenty of work to be done. In a 2005 survey of 1,931 houses located in Jefferson Davis neighborhoods, 14 percent of them were found to have heavy wear and aging, while 37 percent were in moderate condition.

"Half of the homes needed work," said county Revitalization Director Tom Jacobson, whose office undertook the survey. "The data is pretty telling. This is a big issue for the neighborhoods. The houses aren't beyond repair, though; that's the good news."

Keith Cole of Cole Real Estate agrees. The Chesterfield native has taken a more active role in the project by investing in local properties in order to fix them up and sell them, hopefully, to new families.

"I told the JDA I was more than willing to go out and find some homes that are for sale or vacant, purchase them and fix them up, using all the new technology to build these things as green as possible," said Cole, who joined the organization last fall and now serves as secretary. "My goal is to expose these neighborhoods to new families, involve other real estate professionals and really just let people know that these neighborhoods are here, that they're very convenient."

Cole has purchased one house and is currently in negotiations over four more. First Market Bank and Village Bank are providing loans for the houses, while Mentzer Inc. of Colonial Heights will handle the renovation work.

"We decided at the outset of this that we wanted to use local labor and work with local banks because they care about the community," said Cole. "It's neat to get the president of a bank to tour your project."

The JDA is hoping for a snowball effect: Cole will fix up a home or two on one block, volunteers from a local civic or faith-based organization will help clean up a couple more and the rest of the street will take notice and follow suit.

"That's where the 'block by block' comes in," said Hart, who also serves as president of the Ampthill Civic Association.

Those interested in rehabbing their own homes can take advantage of a county residential rehabilitation tax incentive, a program the JDA is trying to spotlight to realtors, residents and potential homeowners. The program offers an eight-year tax break for older homes undergoing rehabilitation work.

The JDA has allowed itself one year to see the results of the curb appeal initiative and two years to measure the impact of its efforts to promote home rehabilitation. The proof won't necessarily be found in the outward appearance of the homes, but in who resides inside them.

"Our main goal is not to just clean up houses and give them temporary curb appeal," said Cole. "Our goal is to get families in these neighborhoods."

For more information on the Jefferson Davis Association, call 275-5190.

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