Speaking out for West Main: Councilors hear concerns of residents

Residents of Charlottesville’s 10th and Page and Starr Hill neighborhoods had the chance Thursday to ask direct questions of the City Council and city department heads.

The event, which was held at First Baptist Church on West Main Street, was the latest in a series of town hall meetings to allow the council to hear concerns of citizens who wouldn’t ordinarily attend a meeting at City Hall. The idea was championed by Councilor Kristin Szakos and Mayor Dave Norris during the 2009 election.

The interim president of the 10th and Page neighborhood said he was glad to have the chance to get the ear of people he referred to as “heavy-hitters.”

“We would like more lighting for 10th Street,” John Gaines said. He presented a long list of issues in his neighborhood, including cut-through traffic, a lack of sidewalks and parking by University of Virginia employees.

Another resident said she wanted reform of the way the city assigns people to public housing, and said she can’t understand why she has been unable to secure a space for her family.

“My name has been on the housing list [for years],” Georgene Spears said. She added that public housing should be seen as a transitional place for people who are trying to get on their feet, rather than a permanent home.

“No one really wants to live in [public] housing but you have to do what you have to do,” she said, adding that she lives in a rat-infested apartment. “With the income we have … me and my family, we can’t afford to live anywhere else.”

Georgene Spears (Credit: Daily Progress)

Karen Waters of the nonprofit Quality Community Council said she would assist, and said that the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority is considering a change to the system.

“If you’re homeless, you have a priority. If you’re a victim of domestic violence, you have a priority,” Waters said. “Now what they’re thinking about doing is a straight ranking from the time you apply that’s time-oriented.”

Waters met with Spears afterwards to ensure her comments would be heard.

One woman wanted an update on the relocation of the city yard, which is thought to be a potential redevelopment opportunity in the community’s future. Public Works Director Judy Mueller said it would not happen for at least five years because there is no room in the budget for the move, which she said could cost over $40 million.

Many people also called for the city to better remember the history of their neighborhoods. Many streets in both neighborhoods were removed from the map during urban renewal.

“There’s nothing from where I grew up,” said Daryl Jones, who attended the now-closed Jefferson School.

Gaines asked for the city to place a historical marker commemorating the life of John West , a former slave who made a fortune as a barber and for whom the Westhaven community is named.

The next town hall meeting will be held Feb. 15 for the Venable and Jefferson Park Avenue neighborhoods.