- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

DANVILLE, Va. (AP) - Nestled within Danville’s Tobacco Warehouse District and Residential Historic District - just south of the River District - is a small community known as the Monument-Berryman neighborhood, now eyed for redevelopment by the city.

It is a modest neighborhood with small houses dating back to the early 20th century - many of which are set for demolition because they have deteriorated to a point that restoration is not cost effective, Earl Reynolds, director of the city’s community development department, said.

As part of the city’s blight eradication program, the Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority has been buying up properties in the neighborhood, roughly bordered by Monument Street on the east, Berryman Avenue on the west, Colquhoun Street on the north and industrial properties and the Norfolk Southern right-of-way on the south.

The city hired Community Planning Partners Inc. to do an in-depth study of the area and provide what Reynolds called “very visionary” concepts of what “might be possible if the land was available for new construction.”

Earlier this month, the plan was presented to Danville City Council by the planning team, led by Craig Wilson of CPP.

The neighborhood has a total of 330 parcels of land, which are largely residential - only two of the parcels are commercial and three are for places of worship.

But, 88 of the parcels are empty. Over time, whatever buildings used to be there have vanished.

Reynolds said those empty spaces have mostly not been part of the current blight eradication program.

“There have only been four or five demolitions in that neighborhood the last few years, and two of those were privately done,” Reynolds said.

Of the 259 structures currently in the neighborhood, only 38 are considered “sound,” according to the study, while another 73 show signs of only minor problems.

But the remaining buildings show deeper problems, most too costly to repair. The consultants rated 57 houses at an intermediate level of deficiencies and 91 as having major problems and/or being dilapidated.

Overall, of the 330 buildings still standing, 87 were vacant during the study.

Reynolds said the buildings generally have very low values - ranging between $6,000 and $30,000 - which makes them very unattractive to developers from an economic standpoint.

At a recent community meeting, Reynolds said residents asked for the vacant homes to be demolished, citing vandalism and other crimes happening within and around those houses.

“They were glad the DRHA had secured some of them and made them much more difficult to break into,” Reynolds said. “They’re not seeing as much ‘foreign’ foot traffic or looking out their windows and seeing people walking between the buildings.”

Reynolds said the combination of the level of repairs needed, combined with the low incomes in the neighborhood and what residents can afford to pay for rent or mortgages - one told the study team he only paid $225 a month and did his own repairs - means the cost of renovations would be higher than what a developer could expect to make on the renovations.

Modest replacements, however, could be done if enough parcels in a row were empty - giving developers more range for recouping their costs.

What Reynolds and the DRHA are trying to do is just that: acquire adjoining parcels at a reasonable cost, clear the titles through the courts and demolish the buildings, so an interested developer can get right to work.

A surprising number of people have happily given the DRHA parcels - often property they inherited and haven’t even seen in decades because they no longer live in Danville - Reynolds said. His department has been fielding calls from people asking how much the city would be willing to pay for their property.

The majority of the neighborhood would remain residential, Reynolds said, except for Monument Street, which the city would like to see become a light industrial/commercial area, and parcels along the two creeks that run through the neighborhood that have very steep slopes on the backs of the properties.

Along Monument Street, the concept drawings reflect what Reynolds called an “industrial feel,” that would set the neighborhood apart while blending with adjoining brick buildings in the Tobacco Warehouse District.

“Those houses were built when there were no building codes; they’d never be allowed to build there now,” Reynolds said, noting that many of the houses that are built up on piers and sill plates that are dangerously deteriorated. Photos taken of some of the houses along Cabell Street show on with a section of the house balanced precariously on a pier that is down to a single brick or two wide in places.

As a separate part of the study, the consultants also supplied conceptual drawings of what a totally renovated intersection at the corner of Industrial Drive and Goodyear Boulevard could do to improve visitors’ first impressions of downtown Danville.

“That whole corridor of Goodyear Drive, from the bypass to Industrial, needs to look more inviting,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the city will use blight eradication funds to get areas ready for redevelopment, but hopes to attract private investment in building the new houses and developing the commercial area on Monument Street.

The concept drawings would be used to give developers an idea what is being sought for the area - but are not set in stone, Reynolds said.

“We will be giving them a design concept that makes sure new development flows visually into the Tobacco Warehouse District and the River District,” Reynolds said.

None of this is short-term - Reynolds said he estimates it will take five years for the city to eradicate blight in the neighborhood and prepare the properties for development.

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

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