CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Redevelopment and revitalization projects are taking place all across Charleston, but some community members don't feel it's happening quickly enough, especially on the city's West Side.
The Rev. Matthew Watts, president and CEO of HOPE Community Development Corporation, wants the city and the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority to focus on blighted areas of the West Side -- those plagued by vacant and dilapidated structures.
"The biggest problem that the West Side confronts is disinvestment," Watts said. "Vacant properties are a manifestation of disinvestment."
In 2008, CURA developed its West Side Renewal Plan (in effect until Jan. 1, 2028) to address those issues of disinvestment. The plan includes outlines for redevelopment of housing, business, open spaces and infrastructure.
These improvements would take place in the West Side's CURA district: south from Washington Street to Kanawha Boulevard; west to Two Mile Creek; east to Hunt Avenue; and Washington Street from Hunt Avenue to Maryland and Railroad Avenue.
Citing Section 16 of the state code (which addresses the establishment and purpose of municipal redevelopment entities), Watts said he doesn't believe the city and CURA have been properly addressing West Side revitalization.
Section 16 states that if a community decides there is a need for redevelopment, an organization should be established to handle such projects.
"The city of Charleston has to take the lead role in advancing the [West Side Renewal Plan] and making a strategy to advance the plan forward," Watts said. "It's not going to happen just because they wrote words on a paper."
The CURA plan states a desire for not only public redevelopment projects, but also promotes joint public and private endeavors.
"There's no doubt that there's a great deal that needs to be done to make the West Side attractive to new investment," said CURA Executive Director Jim Edwards. "It's going to take the efforts of more than one redevelopment agency to make a change."
Also part of the plan is a designated Home Ownership Zone -- an area focusing on rehabilitating houses and developing safe, affordable housing. Bob Hardy -- who was involved in founding Charleston Area Community Development Corporation in 1994 -- said there hasn't been enough attention paid to that area.
"If we have created a Home Ownership Zone, what we are going to do is we are going to enhance the opportunity for home ownership [there]," Hardy said. "Since that time, they have done absolutely zero to make this home-ownership viable."
There has been work done by the city and CURA on the West Side in recent years. The city has demolished 234 residential and 57 commercial structures on the West Side since 2005, according to data from the Building Commission.
Vacant houses are a drain on city services, according to City Planning Director Dan Vriendt. They are "places where mischief can happen," such as drug deals and fires.
The Strong Neighborhoods Task Force has worked on developing a city ordinance that would alleviate some of the problems vacant houses create. Part of the ordinance includes requiring property owners to register vacant structures and impose a fee on those who don't. The task force is going to take up that ordinance again next year, Vriendt said.
CURA has spent about $660,000 over the past two years on projects in the West Side, according to Edwards. These funds were allocated to projects such as streetscape improvements along Washington Street, the Mary C. Snow clinic and the demolition of 13 structures on behalf of HOPE, Edwards said.