Community members have been questioning Charlottesville officials about the progress being made since the City Council voted last November, without a public hearing, to give $500,000 to New Hill Development Corp. to create a small area plan and community vision for the Starr Hill neighborhood.
New Hill is tentatively scheduled to present its plan to the council in November, according to city officials.
The corporation was created as a community initiative to spur investment in the Starr Hill area and Vinegar Hill, a historically African American neighborhood that was razed by the city in the 1960s.
“[The] Small Area Plan … will serve as a mechanism for intentional focus and collaboration in addressing the Starr Hill Community challenges and opportunities for economic, social, physical and cultural vitality within the subject area, as well as its role in the greater Charlottesville community and region,” New Hill wrote in documents submitted to the city.
The small area plan would be bound by Preston Avenue to the north, Ridge/McIntire to the east, the CSX railroad to the south and the Norfolk Southern railroad to the west.
It would be incorporated into the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
The donation agreement itself has caused some confusion. It requires New Hill to present three- and six-month updates to the City Council and a final plan within nine months.
Failure to deliver the final plan requires New Hill to return all of the money.
The confusion has been exacerbated because, after the November council meeting, all other communication between New Hill and the city has occurred outside of public meetings. This caused many to believe that New Hill didn’t meet deadlines in February, May or August.
However, the agreement wasn’t actually signed until Feb. 1, once New Hill worked out the terms of an escrow agreement, according to city officials.
Therefore, New Hill was required to provide updates in May and August and deliver a product by Nov. 1.
Because no more than two city councilors met with New Hill representatives in May, open-meeting laws did not apply.
However, it’s unclear that a second formal meeting ever occurred. New Hill CEO Yolunda Harrell said representatives met again with councilors in July, but Councilor Heather Hill said the May meeting was the only one she had attended and other city officials weren’t sure that a second meeting was held. Other councilors didn’t return requests for comments.
If a second meeting wasn’t held, the agreement does not stipulate any penalties. New Hill is only required to return the $500,000, which came from the city’s Equity Fund, if it doesn’t meet the Nov. 1 deadline.
The plan is slotted on the draft Nov. 4 City Council agenda, according to city spokesman Brian Wheeler. Although that is three days after the nine-month deadline, the documents are expected before then.
At the May meetings, councilors received an outline of New Hill’s intentions for facilitating community engagement in the small area plan.
The community engagement documents outline a three-phase approach to creating the small area plan.
The first phase works directly with the neighborhood’s residents to design a vision for the area. The work would be coordinated with part-time community outreach workers embedded in the neighborhood to gather data.
The second phase engages a “broader community” to further craft the plan and link it with the history of Vinegar Hill and the needs of African Americans in the city.
“It is important to recognize that political boundaries are not always logical planning boundaries,” the documents say. “And this process must acknowledge that there are strong connections to the legacy of the former Vinegar Hill community. As such, the Community Engagement Plan is designed to prioritize the voices that can connect Vinegar Hill’s powerful legacy with a vision for a new future.”
New Hill conducted digital town halls over the summer to gather feedback on the community.
The third phase focuses on work with “appropriate stakeholders” to identify economic development opportunities.
Harrell said, “It has been a great engagement process.”
Harrell said New Hill has submitted a preliminary community vision statement and the driving principles for the plan.
“We want to look at not only where we are today, but where we want to go in the future,” Harrell said. “Ultimately, this is about helping put forth strategies and ideas that the community has worked hard on.”