City Council heard from two representatives of local groups Monday night asking for support through this year’s Community Development Block Grant program
Waynesboro will receive an estimated $182,000 for the federal 2019 fiscal year, relatively the same amount the city has been awarded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program in recent years.
The grant, which must be approved by HUD before being disbursed, is intended to aid low- and moderate-income neighborhoods with an eye to spurring economic development that’s not being met through private investment.
CDBG funds may be used on a wide range of projects but cannot be used for maintenance or operation costs, Waynesboro Director of Planning Luke Juday told council prior to the public hearing.
In previous years, the city has used the funding to help address infrastructure and park improvements, tear down blighted and substandard housing and other economic assistance and development needs.
Jeanie McCutcheon, speaking as a representative of the Port Republic Road Historical and Community Association, asked council to address what she said has been a long neglected need in her neighborhood. McCutcheon said the residents there have been waiting 25 years for the city to meet a promise of building new sidewalks.
“We seem to be ignored when it comes to sidewalks,” said McCutcheon, who is also a member of the city’s Board of Equalization.
McCutcheon said that adding new sidewalks is important to the neighborhood and the city, noting it is one of Waynesboro’s three historic districts. She said the district contains at least 80 parcels with historic value.
The association, she said, is working to identify the historic properties to increase tourism and economic development in the neighborhood.
“We want that … to be a place that people would want to walk,” McCutcheon said.
A second nonprofit representative, Karen Orlando of Blue Ridge Children’s Museum, made a similar pitch to council.
Orlando is president and a member of the board of the 2-year-old organization, which so far is a “museum with walls.”
While Blue Ridge Children’s Museum has been conducting activities in areas business, libraries and schools in the Staunton-Augusta County-Waynesboro area, the goal is to establish a permanent site downtown inside a former farm equipment repair service building at 201 Short St.
The organization is working toward renovating the structure to open in a small space this fall, then expanding to a large-scale museum by 2023. Ultimately, the organizers envision building a museum that will include a climbing structure, theater, exhibits, arts and crafts space and other resources for educators, according to the museum website.
Monday night, Orlando asked council to consider the museum when allocating this year’s CDBG grant.
“What we need now are walls for those children to come to,” she said. “We hope the museum can be included in some way.”
Orlando said the museum “checked a lot of those boxes” that HUD requires of grant recipients, including improving blighted neighborhoods, and providing programming to low- and moderate-income families.
In 2018, the museum received a $10,000 grant through the Office of Economic Development & Tourism’s Grow Waynesboro initiative, which the organization matched with $10,000 in funding it raised. Orlando said the museum board is using that money to work with an architect with a fundraising goal of $50,000 for the renovations.
Juday, in his presentation to council, said the overall aim of the grant program is to create opportunities for investment and development in areas of need.
“The goal is to develop viable communities,” he said, but added that the amount of funding isn’t especially large. “It’s enough money to do some small projects.”
For that reason, Juday said, planners look to take a “targeted approach” in how the money is spent. As an example, he said, the city has assisted with water system improvements in Port Republic and Basic City neighborhoods.
City staff also is asking for comment to help craft Waynesboro’s updated five-year plan related to housing and community development needs that will be submitted to HUD’s Richmond office by Aug. 15.
The city intends to begin using its 2019 CDBG funding around the start of the new federal fiscal year on Oct. 1.