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2018-02-28 / Featured / Front Page

Jeff Davis residents seek ‘balance between old and new’

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


As the county moves forward on a revitalization plan for the northern Jefferson Davis Highway corridor, some residents are asking that those who live along Jeff Davis be included. 
ASH DANIEL As the county moves forward on a revitalization plan for the northern Jefferson Davis Highway corridor, some residents are asking that those who live along Jeff Davis be included. ASH DANIEL As the county embarks on an ambitious plan to revitalize the economically depressed northern U.S. Route 1 corridor, longtime residents are asking local leaders not to forget about them. “We know that developers and people in finance have a lot of clout. They have a lot of power already, and a lot of the residents of the corridor don’t have much,” said Kim Marble, president of the Jefferson Davis Association, during a public hearing at last week’s Planning Commission meeting.

Marble, one of 15 people who addressed the commission, lobbied for additional language to be inserted into the 156-page Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan before it is presented to the Board of Supervisors.


Kim Marble, top, president of the Jefferson Davis Association, spoke out at last week’s Planning Commission meeting: “We just want to see balance between the old and the new.” 
PHOTOS BY ASH DANIEL Kim Marble, top, president of the Jefferson Davis Association, spoke out at last week’s Planning Commission meeting: “We just want to see balance between the old and the new.” PHOTOS BY ASH DANIEL This “equity statement” affirms the county’s commitment to “seek ongoing input from the residential community” regarding development projects along the corridor.

It also aims to “protect and promote the quality of life of all area residents, with due consideration for those who are most vulnerable.”

“We love the plan. We love the thinking outside the box. We love that there is hope. We just want to see balance between the old and the new so it’s not just about redevelopment, but also revitalizing existing communities,” Marble added. “We feel this statement is something we can point back to if things go astray.”


The 156-page Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan targets revitalization efforts along U.S. Route 1, from the Chesterfield-Richmond line near Chippenham Parkway to state Route 10. The 156-page Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan targets revitalization efforts along U.S. Route 1, from the Chesterfield-Richmond line near Chippenham Parkway to state Route 10. Such equity language had been included in earlier drafts of the special area plan, but it was removed at some point. After Chairman Gib Sloan directed county staff to put Marble’s statement back into the document, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to send it to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation for approval.

“As things change, as improvements are made, it’s very possible if we’re not careful that there could be people who live in that community who might be left behind,” Matoaca District commissioner Craig Stariha said. “There are a lot of great people who live in that area. They deserve to be part of this process and part of the success.”

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan will be incorporated into Chesterfield’s comprehensive plan. It also will replace the existing special area plan that was adopted in 1993 and guide the local government as it attempts to do something unprecedented: transform a poverty-stricken 15-square-mile suburban area along Jeff Davis, known as the Pike to longtime residents, into a prime destination for new residential and commercial development.

While there have been several successful urban renewal projects across the country in recent years, including one just across the river in Richmond, county planner Jim Bowling acknowledged staff “had a hard time finding examples we could use” when they began working on the Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan in 2015.

“No one seems to be doing this type of revitalization work along a corridor like this,” Bowling said.

For one, the scope of the challenge is different. While urban environments typically are more compact, the area covered in the new special area plan sprawls from the Richmond-Chesterfield line down U.S. Route 1 to its intersection with state Route 10. The cost of creating a bike- and pedestrian-friendly network there means it can only happen one segment at a time unless the private sector gets involved.

The redevelopment of aging Richmond neighborhoods was aided by existing sidewalk infrastructure and the fact that much of the city’s housing stock has “good bones.” Even many seemingly dilapidated row houses were attractive to developers who knew they could buy them for pennies on the dollar, pour money into extensive renovations and make a tidy profit when they sold the refurbished properties.

There are pockets of mostly small single-family homes along Jeff Davis. The Ampthill, Bensley and Bellwood communities include some of Chesterfield’s earliest subdivisions. Much of the housing in the area, however, consists of cheaply manufactured apartments, duplexes and mobile homes that are far more likely to be demolished to make room for new residential development.

Then there’s the question of what happens to the low-income residents who live in such housing if it goes away as the corridor is redeveloped.

Many families have been displaced from Richmond to Chesterfield and Henrico in the last two decades as the city experienced its residential revival. The availability of historic tax credits, and a popular tax abatement program, led to reinvestment in the city’s housing, raising prices and forcing many of Richmond’s lower-income residents to move elsewhere – primarily the outer suburban fringes of Chesterfield and Henrico. Both counties are now dealing with increased poverty, unemployment and other challenges once primarily found in urban areas.

Bowling noted the Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan calls for incentivizing economic development in ways that “improve the community and benefit existing residents as well as the county.”

“It preserves the best of the past and promotes the future good,” he said, “and it recognizes the community’s great cultural diversity as an asset.”

The plan recommends the creation and expansion of workforce training opportunities “so people who live in the neighborhood can work in the neighborhood,” Bowling added. It also encourages developments that have a mix of residential and commercial in pedestrian friendly settings so people can live, work and shop without having to use a car.

In the meantime, the county is exploring ways to help low-income residents who live along Jeff Davis connect with employment opportunities in other parts of Chesterfield.

“We have so many great companies coming here. If they’re building and bringing in jobs, how are we going to get to them without transit?” asked Darlene Palacios, one of several speakers at last week’s public hearing who focused on the lack of public transportation in the county.

A state agency is currently conducting a study of potential mass transit options for the U.S. 1 corridor. County transportation officials expect to have findings from the study in April. Chesterfield resident Roland Stokes, who said he lived in a trailer park on Jeff Davis Highway back when it was still the predominant north-south highway on the East Coast, pointed out that public transportation has been tried before in the area and was not successful.

“Not to say your plan isn’t going to work. I hope you try it again, but I hope you go back through it and find out what happened and not repeat yourself with that,” he said.

Other speakers at the public hearing implored the county not to do what it did with the 1993 special area plan for northern Jeff Davis, which contained many recommendations that were never implemented.

No later than 30 days after the new plan is approved by the Board of Supervisors, a steering committee will be formed to create a timeline for implementing the plan’s objectives.

According to Sloan, the steering committee will include representatives of the Jefferson Davis Association and the other civic organizations that advocate for residents of the Ampthill, Bensley and Bellwood communities.

Ree Hart, president of the Ampthill Civic Association, expressed appreciation for Stariha’s comments about “nobody being left behind.”

“In my lifetime we’ve seen a lot of changes, ups and downs, along Jeff Davis, but this is a vibrant and diverse and important part of our community,” she said. “It’s important that we recognize that as we move forward.” ¦

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