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2017-03-29 / Real Estate

County proposes new revitalization office

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER

County Administrator Joe Casey is proposing the creation of a new department that will coordinate the county’s efforts to revitalize aging residential communities and maintain the public infrastructure built to support them.

Deputy County Administrator Bill Dupler was scheduled to brief the Board of Supervisors on the Community Enhancement Department on March 29.

County officials were quick to point out that the new department won’t increase the size of the local government; it merely absorbs the existing revitalization office and its one employee, revitalization manager Carl Schlaudt.

By transferring 16 other employees from four different departments and redeploying one vacant position, the county expects to staff Community Enhancement without adding to its total employee count.

The new unit will inherit seven positions apiece from the Planning and License Inspection departments and two from Building Inspection – as well as the county’s Community Development Block Grant coordinator, who currently is part of the Budget and Management staff.

The idea is to promote coordinated public investment, prioritize revitalization needs, engage community partnerships and provide help for citizens interested in enhancing their own properties. “The spirit of the workers trying to do well was always there. I’m just trying to concentrate their efforts,” Casey said.

Henrico leaders embraced that concept more than a decade ago. Since they formed a community revitalization department in 2004, the county has invested millions in helping residents with painting, picking up trash, cutting grass and other activities that make a difference in maintaining vibrant communities.

The department has 23 full-time employees and receives more than $2 million a year in funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to administer maintenance assistance programs for low-income homeowners.

In 2010, it produced the first edition of its homeowners enhancement guide, a how-to handbook for homeowners interested in enhancing and modernizing their homes and properties.

Chesterfield also created a community revitalization office in 2004, but it was staffed by one person: former planning director Tom Jacobson. The county began shifting more attention to revitalization after the recession of 2007. Throughout the population boom of the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, Chesterfield’s elected leaders were busy building new schools and other public facilities to accommodate residential development; with a couple exceptions (the Jefferson Davis corridor and the village of Ettrick), proactive code enforcement and community maintenance programs were mostly nonexistent.

Now more than half of Chesterfield’s single-family housing stock is 25 years old or older – a reality that county leaders acknowledged when they made revitalization the central theme of the 2012 comprehensive plan.

“One of the important things the county is doing is encouraging neighbors to help each other out,” said Bethany Halle, chair of the county’s Revitalize Our Communities committee. “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.”

Historically, the county government has taken a more decentralized approach to community enhancement, distributing millions in grant money to nonprofits that help low-income individuals repair and rehabilitate their homes. Chesterfield has borrowed some good ideas from Henrico, though. Most notably, it now produces its own 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).

“We have talked with folks from Henrico. They have a great model [for community revitalization],” Schlaudt said.

Chesterfield’s approach appears to be evolving under Casey’s leadership.

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.

The county intends to create the new Community Enhancement Department July 1 and begin redeploying staff in August and September.

Casey “had to spend some time working in the organization to come up with a plan that he thought could work,” said Dorothy Jaeckle, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. “I’m looking forward to the work this team will be doing.” ¦

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