CURA

Rev. Matthew J. Watts – The West Side

Dear Friends,
For anyone who cannot access the Gazette Mail on-line below are the two news paper articles that appeared in the Gazette-Mail News Paper on Wednesday and Thursday regarding the City’s proposed plan to rezone a large part of the West Side of Charleston. Despite strong opposition from West Side residents. City officials appear determined to drive this plan through with a strong sense of urgency. This appears to be nothing more than a diversionary tactic to divert attention away from the CURA/City debacle with the amended West Side Community Renewal Plan. The City is trying to distance itself from CURA with this Neighborhood Overlay Redistricting NOR.
Truth is, the CURA can only develop plans as directed by the Charleston City Council and the Council is responsible to hold CURA accountable to follow the law. The Council should request that the CURA take the necessary steps to a bring the draft amended WSCRP in compliance with the law. Instead the CURA director, Ron Butlin, is espousing some nonsense that he is going to get with the Municipal League and other Cities to go the WV Legislature to get them to clean up the code. I understand this is idea was suggested by Mr. Jesse Richardson regarding the development of new plans not for amending existing plans.
Both City and CURA are sending out smoke screens to confuse the West Side Residents, but the West Side Residents are not stupid.
They know when someone is trying to hood wink them. The West Side Residents know that the City officials would never even think about trying to pull a stunt like this in Edgewood, the East End Historic District, Kanawha City or South Hills. Can you imagine the fall out that would occur if the City Planning Department would secretly devise a plan to rezone any of these communities? Heads would role but City officials believe they can do it to the West Side with impunity. If the proposed NOR is so wonderful, then why not offer it to all Charleston communities?
I encourage all Pastors, Alphas, Omegas, Deltas, AKAS, Links, Lodges, YMCA and others who are committed to fairness and justice to stand with the West Side residents.
West Side residents urge city to reconsider proposed zoning changes
11 Mar 2020 — Charleston Gazette Mail
By Joe Severino Staff writer
A few dozen West Side residents who gathered with officials from the city Planning Department at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary to discuss proposed zoning changes to their neighborhood had one clear message on Tuesday evening: pump the brakes.
Residents shared concerns about the proposed changes, which would relax city code to allow for duplexes on single family lots, triplexes and quadplexes on corner lots, waive some parking requirements and eliminate the minimum lot size. But residents mainly criticized the city’s lack of investment in residential areas of the West Side over the past decade.
Rick Martin, president of the NAACP Charleston branch, said the zoning changes proposed by Planning Department Director Dan Vriendt and Planner John Butterworth are in good faith, but aren’t what the West Side needs right now.
Martin and other members of the Tuesday Morning Group, made up of black community members who meet weekly to discuss ongoing community issues, said they’ve been continually frustrated with the West Side Community Renewal Plan.
They say the plan is not specific enough, doesn’t comply with the law or have significant community input. Martin said all parties – West Side residents, the city and the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority – need to come together and work out a single redevelopment plan that addresses the big picture.
“A redevelopment plan is more than rezoning. We understand that’s only one slice of it, but the collective interest here is a desire to see more than just that one slice,” he said.
The current West Community Renewal Plan was adopted by Charleston City Council in June 2008. It was designated as a 20-year plan.
Leaders of the Tuesday Morning Group and Charleston NAACP grew frustrated with the lack of action on the plan, they said. With the help of Charleston attorney Kitty Dooley, they submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to see how the city was spending money to address slums and blight.
The FOIA showed $5.8 million had been spent by CURA in that 10-year period, Martin said. But only about $200,000 of that $5.8 million had been spent on residential slums and blight. The majority of the money was spent on commercial projects.
The 2008 renewal plan noted that around 81% of the buildings on the West Side are residential.
In April 2019, CURA Executive Director Ron Butlin said that after 10 years, the plan’s residential components needed to be looked at more closely. CURA then released a draft plan to amend the 2008 plan to address those issues. However, that plan has been held up since.
The 2019 draft plan went before the city’s Urban Renewal and Economic Development Committee on Jan. 23.
The committee sent the draft plan back to CURA, however, after West Virginia University’s lead land use attorney, Jesse Richardson, read the plan and authored a legal opinion on it. He wrote that “a court would be slightly more likely than not” to find the draft plan does not comply with the law.
Richardson said the draft plan primarily lacks specificity; mainly, the draft plan doesn’t include detailed costs for proposed projects or investments, which is required by state Code.
“[State code] requires projections of costs and revenues to carry out the plan, as well as sources of revenues. The West Side Plan does not include those items,” Richardson wrote in the legal opinion.
But Richardson said the wording in the state Code for slum clearance and urban renewal projects is unclear and can be confusing.
CURA members decided, in a Feb. 12 meeting, to sit on the draft plan for now and look to work with other West Virginia cities’ urban renewal authorities to get the language cleared up by the state Legislature.
But the draft plan is still on the agenda for CURA’s 9 a.m. Wednesday meeting.
Zoning changes
The Planning Department hopes that by relaxing the code, more developers can invest in housing projects in the neighborhood.
One concern shared by residents was the plan would allow for overcrowding, but Vriendt said that wouldn’t be the case.
“Sometimes there is a fear of density, because rental property in the city can have a bad name. But I think new, quality rental property is not something that should be feared,” Vriendt said.
Butterworth said while there are concerns over the renewal plan, the changes should still go forward, because action is needed immediately in the neighborhood.
“The community renewal plan doesn’t guide this. This is a change that needs to happen whether the community renewal plan is adopted tomorrow, or last year, or 10 years from now,” he said. “This has to occur to make it possible to get the new investment that we need.”
West Side residents urge city to reconsider proposed zoning changes
11 Mar 2020 — Charleston Gazette Mail
By Joe Severino Staff writer
A few dozen West Side residents who gathered with officials from the city Planning Department at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary to discuss proposed zoning changes to their neighborhood had one clear message on Tuesday evening: pump the brakes.
Residents shared concerns about the proposed changes, which would relax city code to allow for duplexes on single family lots, triplexes and quadplexes on corner lots, waive some parking requirements and eliminate the minimum lot size. But residents mainly criticized the city’s lack of investment in residential areas of the West Side over the past decade.
Rick Martin, president of the NAACP Charleston branch, said the zoning changes proposed by Planning Department Director Dan Vriendt and Planner John Butterworth are in good faith, but aren’t what the West Side needs right now.
Martin and other members of the Tuesday Morning Group, made up of black community members who meet weekly to discuss ongoing community issues, said they’ve been continually frustrated with the West Side Community Renewal Plan.
They say the plan is not specific enough, doesn’t comply with the law or have significant community input. Martin said all parties – West Side residents, the city and the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority – need to come together and work out a single redevelopment plan that addresses the big picture.
“A redevelopment plan is more than rezoning. We understand that’s only one slice of it, but the collective interest here is a desire to see more than just that one slice,” he said.
The current West Community Renewal Plan was adopted by Charleston City Council in June 2008. It was designated as a 20-year plan.
Leaders of the Tuesday Morning Group and Charleston NAACP grew frustrated with the lack of action on the plan, they said. With the help of Charleston attorney Kitty Dooley, they submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to see how the city was spending money to address slums and blight.
The FOIA showed $5.8 million had been spent by CURA in that 10-year period, Martin said. But only about $200,000 of that $5.8 million had been spent on residential slums and blight. The majority of the money was spent on commercial projects.
The 2008 renewal plan noted that around 81% of the buildings on the West Side are residential.
In April 2019, CURA Executive Director Ron Butlin said that after 10 years, the plan’s residential components needed to be looked at more closely. CURA then released a draft plan to amend the 2008 plan to address those issues. However, that plan has been held up since.
The 2019 draft plan went before the city’s Urban Renewal and Economic Development Committee on Jan. 23.
The committee sent the draft plan back to CURA, however, after West Virginia University’s lead land use attorney, Jesse Richardson, read the plan and authored a legal opinion on it. He wrote that “a court would be slightly more likely than not” to find the draft plan does not comply with the law.
Richardson said the draft plan primarily lacks specificity; mainly, the draft plan doesn’t include detailed costs for proposed projects or investments, which is required by state Code.
“[State code] requires projections of costs and revenues to carry out the plan, as well as sources of revenues. The West Side Plan does not include those items,” Richardson wrote in the legal opinion.
But Richardson said the wording in the state Code for slum clearance and urban renewal projects is unclear and can be confusing.
CURA members decided, in a Feb. 12 meeting, to sit on the draft plan for now and look to work with other West Virginia cities’ urban renewal authorities to get the language cleared up by the state Legislature.
But the draft plan is still on the agenda for CURA’s 9 a.m. Wednesday meeting.
Zoning changes
The Planning Department hopes that by relaxing the code, more developers can invest in housing projects in the neighborhood.
One concern shared by residents was the plan would allow for overcrowding, but Vriendt said that wouldn’t be the case.
“Sometimes there is a fear of density, because rental property in the city can have a bad name. But I think new, quality rental property is not something that should be feared,” Vriendt said.
Butterworth said while there are concerns over the renewal plan, the changes should still go forward, because action is needed immediately in the neighborhood.
“The community renewal plan doesn’t guide this. This is a change that needs to happen whether the community renewal plan is adopted tomorrow, or last year, or 10 years from now,” he said. “This has to occur to make sure that we need to get the new investment that we need.”
March 12, 2020
West Side residents asked the city to delay a vote on zoning changes. The vote will happen anyway.
By Joe Severino Staff writer
Despite heavy pushback from West Side residents, the Charleston City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on proposed zoning changes in the neighborhood, according to the meeting agenda.
On Tuesday at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary, during what was advertised as an information session on the proposed changes, West Side residents criticized the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority and the city over the unknown status of the West Side Community Renewal Plan.
Attendees said that without knowing where the plan stands, it creates further uncertainty about residential development in the West Side. This led to confusion about whether the zoning proposal is a piece of the plan and questions about how it fits into the plan’s goals.
Those concerns were echoed Wednesday morning during the authority’s regularly scheduled meeting. Executive Director Ron Butlin said the draft plan to amend the 2008 West Side Community Renewal Plan is still on hold while the board works with other West Virginia cities’ urban renewal authorities and the West Virginia Municipal League to clean up the wording of state Code on urban renewal law.
Rick Martin, president of the NAACP Charleston branch, asked during the public comment period that the board work with the city and West Side residents to schedule a community meeting on the plan.
He said at the least, a day-long working session with West Side residents and the authority and city is needed so all concerns can be addressed and the path forward is clear.
The 2019 draft plan has been held up since West Virginia University’s lead land use attorney, Jesse Richardson, read it and wrote to the city that “a court would be slightly more likely than not” to find the draft does not comply with the law.
Richardson said the draft lacks specificity. It doesn’t include detailed costs for proposed projects or investments, which is required by state Code.
“Ladies and gentleman, that ’08 plan has been in place for almost 12 years … We understand the past, we understand much of what went on under the previous administration, particularly as it related to residential slum and blight in the area covered by the West Side Community Renewal Plan,” Martin said. “We can’t walk away from that. We can’t close our eyes and act like it didn’t happen.
“This is a new day. This is a new administration and we have an opportunity to do right by the people, and I don’t think after 12 years of neglect, in terms of residential slum and blight, I really don’t feel like it’s unreasonable what the community is saying.”
City Councilor Tiffany Wesley Plear said the unknown status of the plan, coupled with confusion over the zoning changes, drives residents’ desire for a meeting. She represents Ward 4, the area of the West Side most affected by the proposed changes. She also is a commissioner on the authority board.
“Without truly understanding what’s happening with the plan right now, the community doesn’t know, OK, is this [zoning change] part of the plan? Is this instead of the plan? … There’s not a clear understanding,” Plear said.
“I don’t think the community is saying the problem is we don’t want development; that’s not it. The community wants development,” she said. “But with being so on edge, [residents] want to know … this is chapter one; but you’ve written the whole book. Can I read the whole book?”
Martin agreed the need for the big picture doesn’t diminish efforts by city Planning Director Dan Vriendt and Planner John Butterworth on the zoning proposal.
“While this may not be a bad idea, and while it may be needed at some point, the question [is], is it the most appropriate thing for that community at this time?” Martin said. “I say that because when you consider the two-and-a-half years that was spent with the use of a consultant working on the West Side Community Plan amendments, [we] end up after that period of time with questions about do those amendments comply with [the law]?
“I think the community deserves an explanation. They need to hear what happened, where are we, where are we going, what is the time frame.”
Plear said she was happy with the meeting Tuesday night and hopes it will lead to further discussion.
“I think everybody felt they were heard, which is something that doesn’t happen all the time,” Plear said. “Now our next step is acting on what we heard.”
Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
Reach Joe Severino

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