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State senator presents plan to increase home ownership on the West Side

By Matt Murphy, Local government writer

State Sen. Brooks McCabe has an idea to revitalize the West Side through new housing, and the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority is going to help.

Authority board members created a task force Wednesday that will begin the process to get a housing program off the ground that aims to replace housing on parts of the West Side block-by-block.

So far, McCabe, D-Kanawha, who was representing his position at West Virginia Commercial Properties LLC, authority Director Jim Edwards and Charleston Planning Director Dan Vriendt have all committed to the task force. Future participants may include the Rev. Matthew Watts and representatives from the West Side’s Tuesday Morning Group, the city building department, the West Virginia Housing Development Fund and West Virginia University, the latter two McCabe said already expressed interest.

“This is a strong collection of organizations,” McCabe said.

Though in its infancy, McCabe’s idea revolves around acquiring properties on the West Side in a block-by-block approach and then either renovating or demolishing those properties to be replaced with new construction.

At the same time, each block could receive streetscape improvements.

“From my perspective, it’s the only way it will work,” he said. “You’ve got to have a street that looks and feels safe.”

Authority board member Lou Tyree agreed.

“At the end of the day, you put six houses down there, you have to have six buyers . . . people that want to live there,” he said.

The project could be in full swing between three and five years from now, McCabe said.

Part of the issue with new construction is many of the lots on the West Side are small — about 25 feet wide — which could hurt the prospect of marketing individual lots.

However, if individual lots can be combined into new, larger parcels, homes built on those lots would be more attractive to buyers, McCabe said.

“We’ve got to deal with that,” he said, referring to lot sizes. “I think that’s solvable.”

Vriendt said unlike previous versions, the city’s current zoning law allows construction on small lots and provides more flexibility concerning setbacks and other regulations.

McCabe said he believes the large number of vacant and dilapidated structures in the neighborhood provides a haven for criminal activity, and if the housing situation is improved, crime rates will go down.

“We’ve got to clean up these structures,” he said.

More than 80 percent of all vacant structures in Charleston — about 240 — are on the West Side, according to a Daily Mail report earlier this week.

“People are just fearful of the perception of the West Side right now,” McCabe said.

McCabe was named to lead the task force. The board will follow up on the issue at future meetings.

“I think we definitely need to be committed to see what we can do to further this,” Vice Chairwoman Diane Strong-Treister said.

At the request of board member Rusty Webb, the board will also send letters to area colleges and universities to gauge interest in the project from an academic perspective.

The board also wanted to request information from the city of Huntington on how that community conducted a large-scale, quick demolition program in 2012.

In that scenario, the city of Huntington, the National Guard and the state Division of Highways collaborated on a project that leveled about 50 houses, according to a Huntington Herald-Dispatch article at the time.

Huntington paid for asbestos costs, hauling fees and landfill tipping fees, and the National Guard and Division of Highways paid for the actual demolition and clearance work, the newspaper wrote.

In other business, the board:

Took no action on a loan application from Bob Hardy, the director of the Charleston Economic & Community Development Corp. Last month, Hardy asked for a $100,000 loan and an additional grant for a West Side housing project.

However, board members wanted more financial details about the project and said the funds couldn’t be used to pay off existing debt or existing liens against Charleston Economic & Community Development Corp.

Voted to allow Edwards to apply for a grant from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation for the 2nd Avenue Neighborhood Center.


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