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Housing Advisory Committee to serve as ‘think tank’ on housing issues in Henrico

Henrico is tapping local expertise as it expands and sharpens its focus on improving the county’s housing stock, its affordability, and neighborhoods.

RVAHub Staff

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Henrico is tapping local expertise as it expands and sharpens its focus on improving the county’s housing stock, its affordability, and neighborhoods.

The Board of Supervisors in April established the Housing Advisory Committee and appointed its first nine members, who will serve staggered terms through 2020 or 2021. The members offer broad experience in housing issues, including for-profit and nonprofit development, home building and sales, commercial lending and law.

The committee is expected to add a 10th member and will meet quarterly, beginning in July, said Eric S. Leabough, a housing specialist in the County Manager’s Office.

The committee will function as a “think tank” and offer input and recommendations on housing issues, strategies, goals, and policies. For example, it’s expected to provide feedback as Henrico updates its zoning and subdivision ordinances and explores ways to promote reinvestment in aging neighborhoods.

“This committee also will look to identify innovative resources to help improve the living conditions for residents of older apartment complexes,” Leabough said. “Many of these communities were built decades ago, and they have a long list of needs due to deferred maintenance.”

Henrico has taken steps over the past year to address housing challenges in the community. The issue was triggered when new owners of the Essex Village apartments sought support for a financing plan that would include renovations to the federally subsidized complex.

Citing persistent building code violations and poor maintenance at the complex, Henrico officials withheld their backing until the owners formally agreed to conditions to improve the 496-unit complex, now named St. Luke Apartments.

“Residents say conditions are better than they were before,” Leabough said. “The owner has verbally committed to the improvements that we’ve asked for, but we have to make certain that they obtain the financing needed to pull it off.”

Since focusing on the needs at St. Luke Apartments, Henrico has taken similar stances to seek improvements at the Hope Village and Henrico Arms complexes. Now, when property owners seek community support for financing plans, Henrico insists on agreements that spell out expectations and provide opportunities for routine inspections, Leabough said.

Henrico’s efforts on housing also have included:

  • The creation of the housing specialist position and Leabough’s hiring in June 2018. He had served as the Varina District representative on the Henrico Planning Commission and managed housing programs and redevelopment initiatives for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services;
  • The establishment of a community revitalization fund, which was seeded with $2 million in fiscal 2018-19. The fund is designed to help acquire strategic properties and address other needs, particularly when the market is unable to address housing issues on its own. So far, $142,000 has been spent;
  • The purchase and demolition of a boarded-up home at 3807 Delmont St. The blighted property, just off Laburnum near St. Luke Apartments, had been vacant and the source of numerous complaints and calls for service by police. Henrico may eventually look for a development partner to build a home on the lot for a first-time buyer, Leabough said;
  • The purchase of a vacant home at 120 N. Holly Ave., which is being renovated by Project:Homes for eventual sale; and
  • The planned purchase of a home at 225 N. Ivy Ave., which will allow Richmond Habitat for Humanity to make improvements for eventual sale to a first-time buyer.

The homes on Holly and Ivy are several blocks from each other in Highland Springs. Henrico has concentrated its investments, to the extent possible, to deliver maximum impact, Leabough said.

“The purpose is to improve the community’s housing stock and create an opportunity for homebuyers to move back,” he said.

Henrico also will be seeking to address housing affordability through a regional housing initiative and a potential partnership with the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust. Similarly, Leabough is working with the county’s advocate for the aging to look at affordability issues with older residents, who can be challenged following the death of a spouse or by rising medical expenses.

“Those are the stories that people are not hearing enough when we’re talking about affordable housing,” he said.

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Belmont Golf Course renovations in motion in Lakeside

Site work started in early May as part of a $5 million project to revive Henrico County’s landmark public golf course in Lakeside.

RVAHub Staff

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Site work started in early May as part of a $5 million project to revive Henrico County’s landmark public golf course in Lakeside.

The Board of Supervisors approved a 20-year lease in December, allowing The First Tee of Greater Richmond to upgrade and operate the facility. The agreement ensures Belmont will remain affordable and accessible to the community while freeing the county from operating losses due to years of declining play.

“We’re just thrilled to see the project move forward,” said Neil Luther, director of Henrico’s Division of Recreation and Parks. “The last thing we wanted to see was to have the lease take effect and the property sit fallow for months and months on end because of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“With work underway, it’s evident that the project is moving forward and will be done this time next year.”

Belmont is being restored in the tradition of architect A.W. Tillinghast, who designed the course – then-known as Hermitage Country Club – in 1917. It hosted the 1949 PGA Championship, which was won by Virginian Sam Snead.

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Under its new design, Belmont will feature 12 championship holes created by restoring existing holes 7 through 18. Holes 5 through 6 will be converted into a 35,000-square-foot putting course plus a six-hole, par-3 “short course.” Each hole will range from 80 to 170 yards and be based on Tillinghast holes throughout the country.

Existing holes 1 through 4 will be turned into a driving range, wedge range and short-game practice area. The project also includes an upgraded pro shop, improved concessions and space for youth programs.

“The course, when it comes back, is going to be brand new in terms of quality,” Luther said.

Brent Schneider, CEO of The First Tee of Greater Richmond, envisions Belmont being an inclusive place “where the history of American golf meets the future of American golf.” The nonprofit is a chapter of The First Tee, a national organization that promotes youth participation in golf and values, such as honesty and integrity.

“Our vision is to strengthen the character of our community, and we feel like, with this property, we’re going to be able to do that,” Schneider said.

“Whether you’ve been playing all your life or you’re brand new and want to come try it out, there’s an entry point at this facility for everyone,” he added.

The First Tee of Greater Richmond expects to invest $4.25 million in Belmont, with Henrico contributing $750,000 previously set aside for course improvements.

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Established in 1998, The First Tee of Greater Richmond operates the Tattersall Youth Development Center at The First Tee Chesterfield Golf Course in Chesterfield County and the Elson Redmond Memorial Driving Range in Richmond.

The group enlisted MacCurrach Golf and Love Golf Design as the contractor and architect, respectively, for Belmont. The first phase of work is focusing on restoring the championship holes, with renovated greens, improved bunkers and better drainage and irrigation.

Scot Sherman, lead architect with Love Golf Design, said the underground systems will be “light years beyond what was here before.”

“You see the turf. You see the bunkers, but you don’t often see what’s underneath,” he said.

With its improvements, Belmont will be designed to challenge experienced golfers and nurture the next generation of players. In addition to the community, the facilities will be available to Henrico’s high school golf teams, the Henrico Police Athletic League and other community groups.

“This is obviously a historic golf course, but there wasn’t a lot of variety here,” said Mark Love, a principal with Love Golf Design. “There wasn’t an opportunity to hit balls on the driving range and take lessons. All of the programing that First Tee does involves all aspects of the game. I think the kids have an opportunity to learn in a nonintimidating environment and work their way up to the bigger golf course, and I think that’s a great opportunity.”

The First Tee of Greater Richmond detailed its plans and answered questions from the community in a presentation delivered in March via YouTube due to the coronavirus.

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Downtown

Stoney administration proposes supported isolation for select COVID-19 positive cases

On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond, in partnership with the Richmond City Health District, will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with demonstrated need an opportunity to isolate safely and securely in hotel units.

RVAHub Staff

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On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond, in partnership with the Richmond City Health District, will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with demonstrated need an opportunity to isolate safely and securely in hotel units.

Research shows that diligent testing, contact tracing and supported isolation will limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. “Boxing in the virus” in this manner requires that every COVID-19 positive patient effectively self-isolate, ensuring they do not spread the virus to family members, friends or the general public.

However, a prolonged, secure period of self-isolation is not possible for many Richmonders.

“The truth is that not all people are safer at home,” said the mayor. “Some aren’t fortunate enough to have a home large enough to isolate from loved ones.”

Using the CARES Act funding from the federal government made available last week by the state, the city will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with a demonstrated need to isolate securely a space to do so.

The city and Richmond City Health District will partner with the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care, a coalition of service providers with expertise in the intersection of physical security and human services due to their charge of aiding those experiencing homelessness.

Basic needs of those who choose to isolate, such as food and COVID-19 related primary care, will be funded through the Family Crisis Fund and safety net provider network.

The program will be facilitated by Richmond City Health District.

“Let me be clear: this program is specifically for those who cannot isolate safely, not a vacation for those who can,” said Mayor Stoney. “These COVID-19 patients will be cared for and sheltered for the good of themselves, their families, and the entire city.”

The Mayor ended with an appeal to the city’s communal sense of unity and compassion: “I know you’d want it for your family members; Richmond is my family. Let’s take care of each other.”

Upcoming testing events:

  • Friday, May 22 at Eastlawn Shopping Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 27 at Eastern Henrico Recreation Center and Southwood Apartments from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 30 at Martin Luther King Middle School from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Education

Henrico County Public Schools considering starting school before Labor Day in 2021

The 2020-21 school year is already scheduled to begin the day after Labor Day, which is Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. The proposal would apply to the 2021-2022 school year and going forward.

RVAHub Staff

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In early March, Henrico County Public Schools introduced the idea of a pre-Labor Day start to the 2021-22 school year. That was before the educational landscape shifted with HCPS’ closure to combat the coronavirus pandemic. At its May 14 work session, the Henrico School Board decided to revisit the issue and consider two calendar options for 2021-22 — one with a pre-Labor Day start and another with a more traditional post-Labor Day start.

Members of the public are invited to share their thoughts on the two options by taking a survey, open until June 3 at 8 a.m. The survey is available by going to HCPS’ website, henricoschools.us, and looking under “Hot Topics,” or by going to henricoschools.us/2021-22-calendar-options/.

The two calendar options under consideration for 2021-22 are:

  • Calendar Option A (pre-Labor Day start.) School would begin on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. School would end on Friday, June 3, 2022.
  • Calendar Option B (traditional post-Labor Day start.) School would begin on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. School would end on Friday, June 17, 2022.

At the work session, conducted in a virtual format, the Board also considered a third option, where students would attend school year-round, with intermittent breaks. After discussing the “extended school year” idea, the Board decided to eliminate that option, citing a desire for more research and collaboration with other school divisions in central Virginia.

While the first and last days of school differ, as well as student and staff holidays, all options would include the same number of instructional days.

Possible advantages of a pre-Labor Day start (Option A) include:

  • Provides two additional weeks of instruction before International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement testing, resulting in less time between the completion of testing and the end of the school year.
  • The academic calendar would more closely align with the start of fall extracurricular activities, as well as college and university schedules.
  • Provides at least a four-day break for Labor Day weekend.

Possible advantages of a post-Labor Day start (Option B) include:

  • Maintains traditional HCPS school calendar.
  • Keeps intact the construction schedule for the new J.R. Tucker and Highland Springs high schools and the expansion of Holladay Elementary School (a pre-Labor Day schedule would move up the construction deadline).
  • Maintains the length of the 2021 summer break for students and HCPS staff members (a pre-Labor Day start would require a one-time reduction of summer break).

There are no significant budgetary differences between the two options.

The 2020-21 school year is already scheduled to begin the day after Labor Day, which is Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

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