VP Opinion/Editorial: “Boarded up houses drain old cities”

September 27, 2007

The Virginian-Pilot has an opinion article following up on their September 23 article on the effects of abandoned housing. The article chastises State legislators:

State legislators offer no help.

Lawmakers, in fact, seem more sympathetic to absentee and irresponsible landowners than they are to neighbors left to deal with the vermin and crime that come with empty, blighted buildings.

State law prevents cities from assessing fines on owners, and the annual fee for vacant houses is a laughable $25. Legislators are promising to consider a proposal to double it. But $50 is too small to make a property owner budge and too little to cover the extra municipal expenses a neglected property runs up.

The article also mentions how the change in eminent domain laws has effected the Commonwealth’s older cities.

Legislators were justifiably concerned about the abuse of condemnation powers, but they should also be concerned about leaving urban communities more vulnerable to decay.

The Wards Corner Partnership could not agree more with the following exerpt:

It’s in everyone’s interest to get these properties repaired and back on the market.

Empty properties, whether they be residential or commercial storefronts, are a great concern for the residents and business owners of our Partnership Area. Allowing properties to sit empty and decay will only further exacerbate the crime and decay that is already present. A prime example of this is the Martone property on the northeast side of the Granby Street – Little Creek Road intersection.

Our State legislators need to realize the effects on inner cities of not being able to use eminent domain to further economic development. There needs to be a solution that gives the Cities and Counties the ability to influence those landowners who continue to negatively affect the property and residents around them. That solution needs to not only respect the rights of private land ownership, but also respect the rights of neighboring property owners whose property values are diminished as a result of the increased decay and crime.


VP: Denby Park to be initial target of “Project Focus”

September 24, 2007

The Virginian-Pilot reports that the Norfolk City Council had its annual retreat in Smithfield today and one of the things they addressed was the increase in crime in the City.  Specifically they mentioned increasing efforts in Denby Park in the Wards Corner area, the Pleasant Avenue area of East Ocean View and Huntersville initially.  Later this year efforts will expand to 10 other troubled neighborhoods, including Park Place and Fairmount Park.

The tools that the City intends to use are increased police patrols, code enforcement sweeps to clean up blighted property, and the rental inspection program that the Partnership has already been briefed on:

The interior of most rental units in the three neighborhoods would be inspected for code violations. If a unit passed, it would not be inspected again for four years.

Landlords also would be required to register a name, address and phone number with the city. 

Norfolk also would initiate landlord-city neighborhood improvement agreements. Landlords would be encouraged to do criminal background checks on tenants and to ban illegal behavior, such as drug dealing. In return, the city would provide enhanced services, such as improved lighting and sidewalks.

Surveillance cameras also would likely be used along several blocks of the three neighborhoods, although details haven’t been finalized.

Notably, the Council did decide to follow through and turn Denby Park, Oakdale Farms, and Monticello Village into a conservation area:

The council also directed Williams to begin the process of turning three Wards Corner neighborhoods into conservation areas, which is required for the city’s housing authority to be able to offer loans to rehabilitate housing.

Denby Park, Oakdale Farms and Monticello Village “were promised this,” Councilwoman Theresa Whibley said. “We need to keep that promise.”

Although not entirely clear or explained, it appears the increased patrols and code enforcement will only last a year:

“We believe we have to focus an intensive effort for a year to get these neighborhoods empowered,” Williams said.

Let’s hope that a year is all that it takes to empower those neighborhoods and let’s hope that there is a “bold move” around the corner.

VP Article on the Effects Of Abandoned Housing

September 23, 2007

The Virginian-Pilot has a very good article on the effects of abandoned housing on the core cities of Hampton Roads, Portsmouth and Norfolk.

If you live next to a vacant house, your property is worth about $7,500 less.

If a vacant house is on your block, the possibility of crime or fire occurring in your neighborhood doubles.

And if you live in Norfolk or Portsmouth, you’re much more likely to face these problems than anywhere else in Hampton Roads.

The article does mention what successes Wilmington, DE has had with a program they have enacted.

Wilmington, Del., has reduced its stock of 1,400 abandoned houses by 22 percent in the past four years through an aggressive program that fines owners annually, starting at $500 and increasing to more than $5,000 if they leave their houses empty for a decade.

The city has collected about $600,000 since 2003.

The fines reflect the costs associated with an abandoned property, from code inspections to police and fire calls, said Jeffrey Starkey, Wilmington’s commissioner of licenses and inspections.

“When you’re constantly being called out to the same property, it’s a tremendous amount of money,” he said. “The taxpayers are footing the bill for that.”

But because of the Dillon Rule, the best the cities in Virginia can do is charge $25 per year.

In Virginia, a program like Wilmington’s is currently impossible. State law prohibits cities from fining property owners and limits vacant housing registry fees to $25 a year – an amount set in 1993.

According to the article, Virginia First Cities Coalition, the lobbying group for 15 of Virginia’s most fiscally stressed older cities, has attempted to lobby for an increase in the fee.

Legislators don’t realize how much abandoned houses hurt communities, said Rachel Flynn, Richmond’s director of community development.

“Most of these legislators don’t live where there’s blight,” Flynn said. “It’s simple math: The votes aren’t there for the people who actually experience this and live in these neighborhoods.”

Ingram agreed.

“A lot of the legislators are from rural areas or from areas where it’s not a problem,” he said.

Neither Norfolk nor Portsmouth has a delegate on the committee.

Norfolk is trying to do something about the problem:

Norfolk also is restarting its vacant house registry. Over the past two years, employees have assembled a preliminary list, compiled from inspectors’ reports and neighbors’ complaints, of about 400 vacant properties that might qualify, said David Freeman, director of neighborhood preservation. Owners will be asked to register or say why they shouldn’t be on the list.

The city also is giving its worst properties special attention, said James Rogers, assistant to the city manager. Norfolk has demolished 31 nuisance properties and compelled the owners of 54 others to restore them.

Vice Mayor Anthony L. Burfoot supports this more intense approach.

“We’re not going to let communities decay like we have in the past,” he said.

The Wards Corner Partnership area, especially Denby Park, Monticello Village and Oakdale Farms, has and continues to experience problems with abandoned homes. We need to lobby for legislation in the General Assembly that will give municipalities the tools to address the abandoned housing problem.

Halloween Spook-tacular Update

September 20, 2007

There will be a meeting Friday night at 6:30pm at the Old Dollar General Store to start planning the Haunted House.  Anyone interested in working on the Haunted House is encouraged to attend.

We are looking for materials and labor.  We hope to have the Haunted House opened on October 19th, 20th, 26th, 27th and October 31st.  We already have some students from Granby High School and Norfolk Collegiate involved and hope to have students from Old Dominion and Norfolk State before we’re finished.

The Spook-tacular is a city-wide event held in Wards Corner and we would like to build some real community involvement.  If your Civic League or School would like to be involved, contact Elyse Kalfus at 587-7975 or 613-1674 or by e-mail at fireyredhead@dayestdesign.com.

Welcome to Wards Corner Now

September 20, 2007

I’ve noticed an increase in viewership over the last few hours and I would like to welcome everyone to the website. Check back often as updates are forthcoming.

Please take your time to peruse the site and leave suggestions in the comments section of this article (by clicking “Comments” below).

Also, please sign up for our Mailing List. By signing up you will receive information and updates from Wards Corner Now in your email inbox.

Send A Letter of Support for DePaul Hospital

September 19, 2007

Bon Secours DePaul Hospital is very much appreciative of the support that the Greater Wards Corner Civic Leagues have shown for their proposal for a new DePaul Hospital. Attached is a sample support letter. If you have any questions or need any assistance, please call Marie Biggers-Gray on her cell at 737- 2207. It is important that DePaul keeps track of the letters going to the state. They would like a copy of the letter faxed or mailed to them. The fax number is 889-5790 or mail to:

Bon Secours Marketing and Planning
110 Kingsley Lane
Suite 511
Norfolk, Virginia 23505

DePaul would also like to offer to pick the letters up, make a copy for the author and for their records and send the original letter to the state and send a to copy to the author.

Again thank you for your assistance. It is important that the state hears from the community.

Halloween Spook-tacular

September 17, 2007

The second planning meeting for the

“Wards Corner Kid Safe Halloween Spook-tacular”

will be held Wednesday, September 19th at 6:30 pm at the

Workforce Development Center

201 E. Little Creek Road

Room 204

From: 6:30pm – 7:30pm

Coffee and cookies will be served

Please bring your ideas and suggestions, we will be assigning jobs for the haunted house, decide where you would like to help. We will beak into groups to work on projects and decide what part you want to do on Halloween night.

Look forward to seeing you tonight

Councilwoman Whibley to speak about DePaul Hospital

September 16, 2007

Monday Night, September 17th at 7:00 pm at the Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church on Newport Ave. Councilwoman Terry Whitley will speak on the subject of DePaul Hospital and its proposal to build a new hospital. Members from all Civic Leagues are invited to attend.

Please get the word out.

“Wards Corner activists blast Norfolk officials over slow reforms”

September 14, 2007

The Virginian-Pilot has printed an article on the Wards Corner Taskforce Meeting:

A presentation by city officials on plans to help crime-ridden neighborhoods in Wards Corner broke down today as neighborhood and business leaders, fed up with the pace of reform, angrily demanded action instead of plans.

Brad Robinson, past president of the Wards Corner Business Association, noted that he recently attended a presentation downtown at which leaders were told of a $7.5 million plan to redo Town Point Park.

“In Wards Corner, we struggle to get a few dollars for a sprinkler system,” he said.
“I’m at the end of my rope,” added Denby Park civic league member Susan Ross. “We’ve been waiting for help for so many years.”

Louis Eisenberg, a Willoughby resident and Wards Corner businessman, was more blunt.

“How many beatings do you think we’ll take before we ask for new political leadership?” he said.

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