Blight eradication program means empty lots springing up around Danville

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DANVILLE, Virginia — With ever more empty lots springing up around Danville as the city's blight eradication program accelerates, the question arises about what will happen with the gaps left in various neighborhoods' landscapes.

Earl Reynolds, the city's director of community development, said that is not a question easily answered because while the city can demolish unsafe structures, it cannot take the property from the owners.

"We don't own them all," Reynolds said.

The Monument-Berryman neighborhood is one area currently seeing a lot of demolitions; on some blocks, several houses in a row are coming down.

Reynolds said there is a long-term plan in place for redeveloping the neighborhood, especially along Monument Street, which is slated to become a business district. When the plan was presented in June, Reynolds admitted it was a "very visionary" concept.

Reynolds said he still feels that the plan is viable — though it may take years to implement.

"We are a multigenerational city," Reynolds said. "Maybe it will be the next generation that benefits from what we're doing now."

The gaps in the residential streets — 88 of the 330 parcels in Monument-Berryman were already empty in June, before the current wave of demolitions began — will be addressed on Dec. 16, when consultants hired to perform a comprehensive housing study present their findings to Danville City Council, Reynolds said. That meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m., before the regular council meeting.

"A lot of things need to be done," Reynolds said. "But many cannot be done effectively by local government . many of the vacant lots created over the years are owned by someone else; there are hundreds, if not thousands, of liens and judgments against the properties."

City Manager Joe King said the study will provide a lot of information that will set goals for rebuilding neighborhoods.

"We'll be looking at best practices in other communities that are the result of demolition," King said.

One of the options available might be to offer the vacant lots to adjoining homeowners — but only if those lots are owned by the city, King said.

Danville has a lot of old, rundown, small houses — two-bedroom, one-bath houses that sold by the hundreds years ago, but are not selling now, King said.

"We need to focus demolition dollars to achieve community development objectives," King said.

Reynolds said he understands some people are upset that the houses were not offered to people willing to rehabilitate them — but while the Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority has purchased a number of properties in the neighborhood, many are still owned by private owners.

"Most of the people in the neighborhoods (where demolitions are taking place) have complained about the properties," Reynolds said. "(They) know who owns them."

Reynolds said that most of the houses being demolished have not had tenants in years, and the houses that are not being demolished are largely owner-occupied and maintained. Keeping neighborhoods well maintained is critical to future success, Reynolds said.

"The idea is to consolidate parcels to be buildable lots," Reynolds said. "If you want to attract people to buy or build new homes, you have to understand they are not just buying a home, they're buying a neighborhood."


Information from: Danville Register & Bee, http://www.registerbee.com

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