By Guest Contributor Drew Gruber Petersburg has unique resources rarely found in any other jurisdiction throughout the commonwealth. Alongside its populace, the unparalleled collection of historic structures makes Petersburg invaluable. However in a recent move to battle blight, several buildings have been torn down. These actions come on the heels of Virginia Senate Bill 1094 which […]
By Guest Contributor Drew Gruber
Petersburg has unique resources rarely found in any other jurisdiction throughout the commonwealth. Alongside its populace, the unparalleled collection of historic structures makes Petersburg invaluable. However in a recent move to battle blight, several buildings have been torn down. These actions come on the heels of Virginia Senate Bill 1094 which “… let localities consider such buildings a danger to public safety if they are vacant, boarded up and not connected to utilities.” City officials have cited both public safety and blight as the reasoning behind the recent tear-downs. Public safety should be a preeminent concern however there are a number of options and questions which need to be considered before resorting to the razing of a building.
The Cockade City’s neighborhoods consist mostly of buildings constructed before 1950. Many of these properties and neighborhoods are either eligible for or are currently on the National Register of Historic Places and as such qualify for rehabilitation tax credits. Furthermore they ensure a steady property value even during economic decline and are the most effective way to draw businesses and industry; creating jobs, safe streets, and a sustainable community. Most importantly we must remember that these houses are also homes. Whether vacant or adjacent, the destruction of these buildings means the destruction of communities.
A number of localities throughout the Commonwealth such as Fredericksburg, Richmond and Alexandria have struggled with the same blight and public safety issues. In most cases the homes which exhibit poor or blighted conditions have an absentee home-owner who is delinquent in keeping up with the municipality. The first tell-tale sign of potential problems with properties are when basic maintenance is left undone, codes are violated and in some cases taxes lapse. At this juncture the zoning and or planning coordinators attempt to contact the owner to remedy the problem. There is a substantial lapse of time between these signs and the approval for demolition wherein proper anticipatory and preventative measures should and must be taken to prevent a razing. If the problem lies with a code violation or a deterioration of the property the appropriate staff may have remedial measures implemented through its own agents.
In the event the town removes, repairs, or secures any building after complying with the laws of notice, the cost shall be chargeable to and paid by the owners of such property and may be collected by the town. If these charges go unpaid they then constitute a lien of the property. This method of fixing blighted properties if the precautionary methods fail are justified by Articles 3 and 4 of Chapter 39 of Title 58.1 of the 1950 Code of Virginia, as amended.
In 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released its list of endangered communities nationwide who were participating in razing historic structures. Thankfully Petersburg was not on that list. Such recognition would surely hurt the marketability; morale of residents and potential which the City has seen grow over the past few years.
Historic communities the world over are statistically the most desirable and socially vibrant of all places to live. Petersburg is a place where I hope to own a home, raise a family, work and cookout with my neighbors. Continuing to destroy the social and fiscal viability in this community without proper prevention will ensure current and future residents will look elsewhere.
Drew Gruber Is a master’s student of urban and regional planning at Virginia Commonwealth University and has his Bachelors in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington.