RVA 5×5: Incentivizing Derelicts

by Jon Baliles

Housing has become a vital issue all across our region; it is a pressing need, but not simple to resolve. It will be with us for some time to come and we have to seek out a multi-prong strategy to address it. But there are some steps that can be taken to set the conditions of success, one parcel at a time. Joseph Maltby in the Henrico Citizen had an interesting story with wider implications about one of those solutions.

He writes about a development along Chamberlayne Road just north of Azalea Avenue in Henrico County that will see a new, 186-unit, affordable housing development with density (three and four story buildings) along with other amenities. The interesting part of the story is that the eight-acre property was “declared derelict in 2019 and put on the county’s list of properties designated for redevelopment,” and the former Days Inn motel was demolished.

Zoning changes are needed for approval and will go before Henrico’s Planning Commission next week, but that is not the interesting or relevant part of the story. Jonathan Spiers at Richmond BizSense.com also ran a story (with some great old-school photos of Schrafft’s Virginia Inn that used to be on the site):

After the property was deemed derelict in 2019, the county instituted a real estate tax abatement program to stimulate the site’s redevelopment, according to the rezoning application. The county also placed liens on the property to recoup its demolition costs, according to the application, which states that the purchase price for the property would cover payment to the county to satisfy the liens.

Take an unused/underutilized/derelict site, incentivize it, bill the owner for ignoring the property to the point of disrepair, and then see new and needed development occur at minimal cost for the locality. There are numerous city-owned derelict properties that could be dealt with in a similar manner, if someone was willing to do the hard work.

While the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust is functioning to foster more affordable home ownership in the city (read more here), it is more of a house-by-house approach. The development in this story is about taking a sizable, derelict site near major services, schools, and transit, and incentivizing them for development of affordable apartments and dwelling units. I can think of about a dozen places like that in the city off the top of my head, but the city has to take the first steps like Henrico did (WWHD?).

If all hands really are on deck to provide more affordable housing units for people that need them, and most of these people can’t (or don’t want to) live in Scott’s Addition or Manchester, then solutions like this need to start appearing in the city.

Jon Baliles is a former Richmond City Councilman. This is an excerpt from the original article posted on his blog, RVA 5×5. It is posted here with permission.