Hen­rico work­ing to re­vamp High­land Springs, race­track dis­trict

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Ted Strong

This fall, Hen­rico County of­fi­cials will be­gin a push to re­ha­bil­i­tate High­land Springs and sev­eral neigh­bor­hoods near Rich­mond In­ter­na­tional Race­way, an ef­fort that could in­clude list­ing High­land Springs on the Na­tional Register of His­toric Places.

The county also plans to work with com­mu­nity and busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions to en­cour­age im­prove­ments and high­light the county’s en­ter­prise zone, which pro­vides re­im­burse­ment for some projects. Of­fi­cials also are hir­ing two new em­ploy­ees to al­low a rein­vig­o­rated ap­proach to code en­force­ment.

And county of­fi­cials will likely work with non­prof­its to buy up and re­ha­bil­i­tate derelict houses in the area, then sell them to first-time home­buy­ers, said S. Mark Strickler, the county’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity re­vi­tal­iza­tion.

Va­rina Dis­trict Su­per­vi­sor Ty­rone E. Nel­son said a sim­i­lar ef­fort brought good re­sults in the county’s Lakeside area, a lit­tle far­ther west.

“It hap­pens with these tra­di­tional neigh­bor­hoods that have been around for a long time,” Nel­son said. “You’ve got to just bring a fresh eye to it.

“At the end of the day, we want High­land Springs to be a clean-look­ing, safe place where res­i­dents want to live, where prop­erty val­ues are up.”

In ad­di­tion to High­land Springs, the push will be fo­cused on homes near the race­way. The neigh­bor­hoods in ques­tion are west of the track, from Aza­lea to Labur­num and across Labur­num, Strickler said.

“I’m just im­pressed with the qual­ity and lead­er­ship of our county in mak­ing this im­por­tant de­ci­sion to help re­vi­tal­ize them,” said Mark Romers, pres­i­dent of the Eastern Hen­rico Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion.

County of­fi­cials are go­ing out of their way to make it clear that in­clu­sion on the Na­tional Register isn’t the same thing as be­ing in­cluded in a lo­cal his­toric dis­trict. While lo­cal dis­tricts can have boards that must ap­prove a wide range of changes to —Ty­rone E. Nel­son, Va­rina Dis­trict Su­per­vi­sor in­cluded build­ings, Na­tional Register prop­er­ties are sub­jected to ex­tra scru­tiny only if there are state or fed­eral per­mits, li­censes or funds are in­volved, ac­cord­ing to Strickler. “There’s just a lot of con­fu­sion be­tween that and the lo­cal dis­trict,” he said.

But there are fi­nan­cial rea­sons to be in the dis­trict, Strickler said. “It makes avail­able his­toric tax cred­its,” he said.

The state has given the county a grant that will cover part of the cost of sur­vey­ing High­land Springs to de­ter­mine whether it’s suit­able — and, if so, in what area it’s suit­able — to be added to the Na­tional Register.

The code en­force­ment com­po­nent of the plan will be aimed at prompt­ing peo­ple to clean up aban­doned and sub­stan­dard hous­ing. But it will be done with a light touch, he said, in­clud­ing find­ing help for those who phys­i­cally or fi­nan­cially can­not ad­dress prob­lems with their homes.

That’s the kind of ap­proach Romers called for.

“There’s an ap­pro­pri­ate ap­proach that takes a lot of sen­si­tiv­i­ties,” he said, “be­cause there are sto­ries be­hind why some of them ap­pear to be va­cant ... but they can still be ad­dressed and im­proved.”

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