To the casual observer driving through Fluvanna’s historic yet shabby little river community of Columbia, it may not appear that much is being done to improve conditions there. Fluvanna County Administrator Steve Nichols says just the opposite is true; progress is being made – it just can’t see be seen yet

“We are just in the preliminary phases of the process,” Nichols said, referring to the county’s plans to use grant money from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to purchase blighted properties in the flood zone and tear them down. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) has worked with the county to obtain the grant and is assisting with the administration of it.

“We have gotten an agreement from all three of the property owners that allows us to do formal appraisals. That is the first step,” said Nichols.

Once the appraisals are in, the county and TJPDC representatives will go over them to determine what they will be able to offer for the individual properties. “At that point we will make formal offers, negotiate with the property owners, and see if we can reach an agreement,” said Nichols. “If we can get to an agreement and purchase the properties, then we will start to work on contracts to tear the structures down and we will contact agencies that might want to take a look at them ahead of time, too. But that all has to be done before next September.”

When asked what happens if the property owners ask for amounts which exceed the FEMA grant, Nichols replied, “I’m not going to let a small amount of money stop the project going forward to see progress, but there is also a limit to how far we can go.”

According to Nichols, all of the property owners involved have said they are willing to discuss selling their property – but there has been no discussion yet on how much the property owners expect to be paid.

Nichols hopes the process moves forward smoothly and looks forward to seeing the results.  “This will certainly take care of some blighted properties in Columbia, and it will be one measure of progress where we haven’t seen any progress at all,” he said.  “It is fantastic if this goes forward in any way, shape, or form.”

There has been talk in the past of unsanitary and unsafe living conditions in Columbia. When Columbia was an incorporated town, it did not have codes in place that could be enforced to make homeowners and landlords maintain safe and sanitary properties. Now that Columbia is part of Fluvanna, however, the county’s codes and ordinances apply.  Nichols said that Fluvanna’s codes are being reviewed now with an eye toward strengthening them for all parts of the county.

“We are working on those codes,” Nichols said.  “The staff is reviewing them. Then they will go before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.  We are working to strengthen codes of the county’s ordinances with regard to decrepit structures, trash, old vehicles and so on… Our current ordinances don’t provide as much enforcement as we would like, so we want to get those updated.”

There are a number of properties around the county – not just in Columbia – that are “in really bad shape,” said Nichols. “If we receive a complaint about a property in Columbia, we will go take care of it right now. We have full enforcement authority.” Properties in Columbia are now being treated just like other properties throughout the county when it comes to safe living conditions for citizens, he said.

“Columbia is not the only place where we have got really bad properties,” Nichols said. “There are certainly problems with structures in Columbia, but there are other properties in the county that have problems too.”