The Charleston Urban Renewal Authority plans to form a group of 10 to 12 people from the community to help rework a West Side renewal plan after a lawyer determined the original draft might break from state public health law.
The panel would discuss potential projects and how to bring the plan into compliance, said Ron Butlin, the authority’s executive director.
Released in 2019, the original plan has been held up since West Virginia University’s lead land use attorney, Jesse Richardson, analyzed the draft and wrote in a legal opinion to the city that “a court would be slightly more likely than not” to find the draft does not comply with urban renewal law.
Richardson said the draft lacks specificity. It doesn’t include detailed costs for proposed projects or investments, which is required by state public health code.
In the months before the draft plan was released, officials held public hearings. Butlin said the public likely will be brought in toward the end of the process when a more detailed plan takes shape.
“We’re trying to balance reopening this public process and not go back totally to square one ... We already have a lot of information that we gleaned from the months of public meetings we did the first time around,” Butlin said. “So we’re not trying to shut out the public, we’re just trying to leverage what we’ve already done as opposed to starting over.”
The Rev. Matthew Watts, a lead advocate pushing for more clarity in the West Side plan, said he expects the authority to offer a detailed plan now that nearly a year has passed since Richardson sent the city his legal opinion.
“Since they’ve been sitting on this for 10 months, I anticipate that they’re going to be coming forward with a plan to be submitted to the city for their approval — a plan that’s in compliance with the law,” Watts said. “That’s the expectations I have.”
Momentum on getting the West Side plan in compliance with state code was halted by COVID-19 in early March. In February, West Side residents and public health advocates asked the city and the renewal authority to take a more detailed look at the neighborhood’s struggles and come up with more concrete ways to achieve economic growth.
Frustration over the plan boiled over at a March 10 public meeting regarding proposed zoning changes to a number of West Side homes. City Councilwoman Tiffany Wesley Plear said during an authority meeting the following morning that residents don’t want to see the projects in the draft plan go unfinished. They just want to know the end goal.
“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. “This is chapter one, but you’ve written the whole book. Can I read the whole book?”