She wanted to know how much she should hope.
Twenty-five years ago, Chesterfield County passed a plan designed to usher investment into her area. More commercial development and apartments came. But by some significant measures, she remained on the undesirable side of the narrative of two Chesterfields.
On Wednesday, another plan by the county was before Renae Eldred and other residents of the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor. This one, officials said, was different from the 1993 plan that they have acknowledged didn’t accomplish its main goals.
So she wondered: How much should she hope?
“This plan can work. I hope it will work. But I’d also like to see a commitment from the county in writing saying, ‘This is what we are going to do,’ ” Eldred, of the Bensley Area Civic Association, told the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday. “It’s hard to get up here time and time again. We hope to see it happen. I hope that this plan does create some positive things to go along the corridor.”
The board approved by a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Chris Winslow absent, the 151-page North Jefferson Davis Special Area plan. It encompasses about 13 miles of the county and centers on an 8.5-mile section of Jefferson Davis Highway that stretches from the Richmond city limits down to Old Bermuda Hundred Road between the James River and CSX railroad line. There, the median income is about half that of the rest of the county.
For some elected leaders, the plan may serve as a template for how other areas in the county could be revitalized. For principal planner Jimmy Bowling, who grew up along the pike, it’s pioneering in its suburban revitalization effort.
And for Kim Marble, the head of the nonprofit Jeff Davis Association manned by mostly volunteers, the plan was an important step. Even more important: how fast change would come.
At the Planning Commission level, Marble was successful in pushing commissioners to restore an equity clause stating that focus will be placed on all residents, including the most vulnerable.
“We need to be careful about how development and redevelopment occurs,” Bowling told supervisors Wednesday, adding that it’s important for the existing residents to not be displaced.
At one point, Marble called Bowling a hero. Another resident, Cloud Ramirez, said that Bowling burst her heart when he recognized that new development may push existing residents out.
Elected leaders echoed Bowling.
“We want to make sure that you are not forced out,” Supervisor Leslie Haley said.
Residents and Marble weren’t successful, however, in convincing supervisors recently to pass a budget that put money behind the plan.
Marble is now advocating for budget amendments. She said Wednesday that the Jeff Davis Association would like to see the county pay for a streetscape design study and roll out a pilot project for a shared-use path and streetscape along U.S. Route 1. She also called on the county’s Parks and Recreation Department to prioritize a 1-mile riverfront conservation area and Falling Creek riverfront park.
“Every day without sidewalks puts pedestrians at risk. We feel that lives are at stake,” she said.
Supervisor James Holland agreed. “I’m still committed as I was last summer to transportation along the corridor. The financial resources are there for it to be done,” he said, reviving his calls to extend local GRTC Transit System service from the southern edge of Richmond to the county government complex near Chester and from there to shopping locations on Iron Bridge Road.
The plan still suggests a trolley system as a possible short-term solution to the area’s transportation needs.
“Where is the commitment? Where is the will? That’s the question,” he said, adding a request for quarterly updates to supervisors on the progress of the plan.
Officials have defended the decision to not put money in the budget by saying a volunteer steering committee charged with overseeing the 36 recommendations must submit a detailed timeline within 30 days of the plan’s adoption, and that some recommendations will go before planning commissioners within a month at a work session. Over the next two years, committee members will be time-bound to make recommendations on how to implement changes.
The idea for the committee came about after commissioners took a red pen to planning staff’s implementation recommendations, aiming to reduce the responsibility of the county.
“It’s not all just the county doing the implementation,” Bowling said, adding that civic and private groups will be encouraged to be part of the effort.
During a recent work session on the plan, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle further defended the budget decision by saying the county has supported the opening of the Falling Creek police station as well as a code enforcement officer. Jaeckle said that staffers would work with the Jefferson Davis community on making the parks projects mentioned by Marble a priority. She added that this time was different from previous efforts because a staffer will be in the county government and the steering committee is committed to a timeline. Supervisor Steve Elswick said the county’s upcoming bond referendum should take up the issue of funding needs for the county’s multiple special area plans.
The Jeff Davis plan will become part of the county’s overarching guiding document called the Comprehensive Plan. It calls for more affordable housing options; improvements to gateways; a connected system of sidewalks, trails and bikeways; farmers markets; and greater property maintenance inspections, among other things.
Improving development standards is another big goal to help shift the communities from the patchwork system of development to ones that are more mixed-use, fit with long-term visions for how the land should be used, and are of a better quality.
The plan still suggests abolishing a 1994 policy adopted by the Board of Supervisors that instructed the Transportation Department to not recommend things such as sidewalks and curb and gutter widenings to developers proposing to build facilities in the Jeff Davis corridor. The idea behind that ordinance was to make it less expensive to build along the corridor and usher in investment. The result was lesser-quality development.