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2018-04-11 / Featured / Front Page

Advocates press on Jeff Davis plan: Where's the money?

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


The special area plan for northern Jefferson Davis Highway includes a special tax district to pay for streetscape improvements near the corridor’s gateways. 
ASH DANIEL The special area plan for northern Jefferson Davis Highway includes a special tax district to pay for streetscape improvements near the corridor’s gateways. ASH DANIEL Residents of the northern Jefferson Davis Highway corridor have seen this play before.

In 1993, the Board of Supervisors approved a plan designed to guide redevelopment of an economically depressed 15-square-mile area between state Route 10 and the Chesterfield Richmond line, but most of the plan’s recommendations were never implemented and it eventually became obsolete.

Twenty-five years later, leaders of several civic associations based along the corridor are imploring county leaders to write a happier ending this time.

As the board prepares to vote later this month on the new Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan, a 151-page document some three years in the making, these local advocates want the Board of Supervisors to back up its lofty ambitions with funding in the county’s fiscal year 2019 budget. “There are a lot of people along the corridor who would love to see the board say, ‘This money is going to be for you guys,’ ” said Renae Eldred, president of the Bensley Area Civic Association, during a recent public hearing on the proposed budget. “We’ve been working on that area for a long time. I’ve been here 30 years and we’ve been working on it the whole time.

“We need your help. We need your support. We need to see a commitment from you that says along with this new plan, we’re going to put some money in the budget to implement it.”

The Board of Supervisors was expected to approve the FY19 operating budget and capital improvement plan at its April 11 meeting.

Kim Marble, president of the Jefferson Davis Association, told supervisors that voting for a budget that includes no funding for implementation of the new special area plan’s recommendations would be “sending the wrong message.”

“We want to build on the momentum and the hope that has been generated as we’ve been working together on the plan,” she added. “We are a prototype for other parts of the county. As you invest in us, we have the heart to share what we have learned and hopefully shorten the learning curve for people in other areas of the county.”

The county has taken steps in recent years to encourage redevelopment of the Jeff Davis corridor, creating a new Community Enhancement Department and making changes to a little-used tax abatement program in the hope of spurring new investment in Chesterfield’s older residential and commercial properties.

It also has classified large swaths of northern U.S. Route 1 as technology zones and revitalization areas, trying to lure developers with a variety of financial incentives.

Now county leaders are waiting to receive a report from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation on its study of mass transit options along the corridor, which is home to Chesterfield’s heaviest concentrations of poverty and residents who lack access to vehicles. The report is expected to be ready by the end of April.

Improving access to transportation is one of the priorities of the Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan, which also calls for the creation of a special tax district to fund streetscape improvements – particularly at heavily traveled “gateway” areas such as the Richmond-Chesterfield line and the intersection of Willis Road and Route 1.

Such an assessment district already exists in a heavily commercial stretch of western Midlothian Turnpike. It generates thousands of dollars in revenue annually for landscaping and median maintenance to keep the area visually attractive.

Marble and other civic leaders called on the county to fund a study and pilot program to identify options for such streetscape improvements along Jeff Davis Highway.

She also requested that the county allocate $94,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to the Jefferson Davis Association so it can hire three part-time employees to work with the approximately 12,000 residents and business owners in the corridor.

The JDA got funding for one part-time position in the fiscal year 2018 budget, but County Administrator Joe Casey’s proposed FY19 budget directs community block grant dollars to other priorities.

“Right now, especially in areas in need of revitalization, there is a lack of good communication,” Marble said. “We’re trying to establish neighborhood associations and support the ones that are there, and also set up roundtables between businesses to help people learn about the façade improvement funds that are available. We want homeowners to know about loans that are available to them. A lot of people don’t even know about the Jeff Davis plan that has been going on for three years.

“We feel we can do a good job of that, but we’re just a board of volunteers right now. We need this to help us get to the next level.”

Clover Hill Supervisor Chris Winslow suggested that the county use part of its proceeds from an expected November 2020 bond referendum to fund “a good-sized chunk” of needed public infrastructure along the corridor.

“I don’t know what the dollar amount will be yet, but that is a good vehicle for us to get some major investment in this area,” he said. “In my view, it’s the only vehicle that really makes a lot of sense.”

Matoaca Supervisor Steve Elswick said it’s critical that the board makes a commitment to Jeff Davis residents that the new special area plan “won’t be like previous plans and get put on the shelf with no emphasis to start working on it.

“We have to have incremental steps on what staff is going to do and what the board is going to do to implement it,” he added. “If we’re not going to commit to do that, we’re just creating false hopes out there.” ¦

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