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CURA director: ‘Perfect time’ to focus on West Side residential areas

Gazette-Mail file photo
CURA Executive Director Ron Butlin

The Charleston Urban Renewal Authority board on Wednesday told its director to review the housing aspects of a plan to improve the city’s West Side and identify three priorities to work on.

During a regular meeting, the CURA board voted to have executive director Ron Butlin look over the West Side Community Renewal Plan and come up three priorities relating to housing. The board also asked Butlin to amend the plan to include a statement about how much the plan will cost to implement.

“Honestly, it’s a bit of an action plan and it’s not going to be done in a void,” Butlin said after the meeting. The challenge, he said, will be to keep things moving and allow public input. “But I hope we would be discussing it with some of the neighborhood organizations.”

The board’s action comes after criticism from West Side residents and activists that CURA hasn’t done enough to improve blighted residential areas of the West Side. Dozens of people attended a special meeting late last month to discuss the ways that CURA has implemented the plan.

During the previous meeting, Butlin said CURA has spent about $6 million on projects on the West Side since the plan was implemented in 2008. About $400,000 has gone toward housing plans, he said.

Wednesday’s meeting was standing-room only. A handful of residents came wearing red T-shirts with the words “What about the West Side?”

Rico Moore, a West Side resident, said he and others wearing the shirts came to remind CURA members that they’re listening and that they vote.

Moore said he wants CURA funding to go where it’s needed most — communities with run-down housing.

“They’re pouring money not in the places that need it the most,” he said.

Butlin said the public response the board has gotten lately has led it to look at what it’s done on the West Side. He said CURA has done a lot of work in open spaces and streetscapes. It’s also helped improve the “gateway” to the West Side, a section of town that has been branded “Elk City.”

“We have done a lot,” Butlin said. “What we haven’t done is very much specifically focused on residential. So it’s a perfect time to go the next step and start focusing on residential.”

Butlin said he hopes to have the frameworks of an action plan to focus on housing by the board’s next meeting.

Besides identifying priorities, the board directed Butlin to amend the plan to include a statement about its financial aspects. State code requires that urban renewal plans contain such a statement, Butlin said.

He said naming a specific cost amount for a renewal plan makes more sense when it’s a specific project, rather than a “20-year plan that encompasses dozens and dozens of blocks.” Butlin said urban renewal plans end up saying vaguely that the plan will cost “millions” of dollars and that the organization will use various types of funding.

“It’s gonna be a very vague statement of the fact that it’s going to cost many millions of dollars,” Butlin said of the amendment.

In other business:

n CURA approved an approximately $130,000 funding request from the Kanawha Institute for Social Research & Action. The funding will cover half the cost of LED lights for a hydroponic facility that will grow and process food at 1031 Central Avenue on the West Side. KISRA executive officer Reggie Jones said the organization hopes to have the facility up and running by the first of the year.

n The CURA board approved a request from the West Virginia Offender Reentry Initiative for $100,000 for the purchase of 10 lots on the West Side.

n The board approved a request from the owners of the Christo building to increase CURA’s funding commitment to the building by $25,000.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1240 or follow @LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

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