17 May 2016
“These funds will protect vulnerable homes by reducing or even eliminating the effects of repeated flooding,” wrote State Coordinator Dr. Jeff Stern in a press release from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “We partner with each locality to protect lives and property through these grants.”
All work must be completed by September 15, 2017, according to a notice on the TJPDC website.
Of the four buildings involved, only one is taxed as a structure, indicating that the other three have been assigned no value by tax assessors, according to Fluvanna County Administrator Steve Nichols.
Public records indicate the Richard Harry family currently owns all of the impacted properties.
All four buildings are in a federally designated flood plain. As such, any substantial renovations or new structures added to the properties would have to meet federal flood plain requirements. The cost of meeting those requirements can be prohibitive.
“I’m not positive that the landowner is going to sell, and I am not positive they are going to sell for the price that we can offer - which is fair market value,” said Nichols. “The landowner cannot rebuild those properties without meeting federal flood plain standards which is catastrophically expensive,” he added.
Nichols described the properties as “eyesores, health hazards, and firetraps,” and added that the vacant buildings could prove particularly attractive to children, who might be unaware of the dangers posed by compromised structures, and might be tempted to explore them.
Fluvanna County Sheriff Eric Hess agreed. “They are an attractive nuisance for kids,” said Hess, referring to the four derelict properties. “If I were a property owner, I wouldn’t want the liability,” he said. “It is no different than owning a swimming pool – you can’t just leave a house abandoned where any child can have access to it.”
When asked if he believed that tearing down the four uninhabited buildings and creating green space would have an effect on crime in Columbia, Hess hesitated. “Until some other issues are dealt with in Columbia – it will help but it is not going to fix the problems,” Hess replied. “The problems lie in some of the people who live there - but mostly in the people who come to visit the people who live there. It is the intersection of three counties,” he explained, “and you get a lot of people who don’t want to drive all the way to Charlottesville or they don’t want to drive all the way to Short Pump; there aren’t many places to go for some people, so they go to Columbia to hang out.”
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