Committee reports on nurturing Chesterfield’s older communities

“New growth and development has long been the dominant issue that has defined Chesterfield County. However, Chesterfield County is no longer a new suburban community. The median age of the county’s single-family housing stock is now 23 years. Several commercial buildings stand vacant and require redevelopment. Several neighborhoods have large number of houses that require substantial rehabilitation.”

So begins a report called The Path Forward: Sustaining Chesterfield County’s Older Communities. The report was presented to the Board of Supervisors during its June meeting as a result of work done by Chesterfield’s Sustain Our Communities Committee (SOCC). The committee, formed in 2006, has aimed to identify ways to address blight as it exists in some neighborhoods currently, but even more to help older neighborhoods and business corridors to address decline before they fall into the blighted category.

According to the report, the committee researched successful revitalization programs across the country. They discovered there is no one, fix-all approach and each community is different in what is needed to prevent decline. There are common threads, though. The report suggests that communities need to have the ability to self-help through community organizations, professional staff assistance and leadership training. The committee also suggests expanding neighborhood cleanup efforts and creating a pattern book that would suggest ways to modernize homes that are beginning to age.

The report illustrates how aging neighborhoods can begin to decline through a quote from planning expert and scholar Göran Cars. “As the community ages, the neighborhood becomes less safe and secure. Those who are better off socially and economically move from the area. They are replaced by people with fewer resources. The number of people with social problems increases. The area is caught in a vicious cycle of decline.”

Dorothy Jaeckle, Bermuda District supervisor, is concerned that foreclosures are beginning to be a problem in neighborhoods that might otherwise not be identified as older or declining.

“Is there something we can do with foreclosures?” Jaeckle asked. “Foreclosures are hitting all neighborhoods.”

Ben Thorp, who is the chairman of SOCC, said the expansion of pro-active code enforcement could help. The county had added two inspectors last year, bringing the total to six code enforcement inspectors.

The report also suggested targeting physical and social resources and nonprofit funds to critical neighborhoods, focusing private and public resources on housing rehabilitation and expanding community policing.

Thorp said that since schools seem to be the center of many communities, school programs and the actual buildings should be maintained and brought up to date. But he was concerned that communication between schools and the non-student community was lacking.

“There’s not enough interaction between schools and the community,” Thorp said. “People move here because of schools.”

The 13-member committee through its report is also advocating for the county to facilitate redevelopment of select blighted properties and construct streetscape improvements on key community corridors, like the Jefferson Davis Association has done near the Winchester Greens neighborhood and is planning for Chesterfield Avenue in Ettrick.  

Chesterfield Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Gecker, after hearing the presentation, said he was impressed with the work the committee had done and he wanted to make sure there was action taken into the future.

“I want to be sure that all the good work will not just sit in the books and PowerPoint and never be implemented,” said Gecker.

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