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Residents hesitant to support 10th and Page historical survey

Charlottesville officials are still deciding whether to proceed with a historical survey of the 10th and Page neighborhood.

About 30 people attended a public meeting with city staff to discuss the proposed survey on Thursday at Pilgrim Baptist Church.

The survey was delayed last month after the initial meeting when people asked for more information and some were in opposition to the survey.

Many of the questions on Thursday focused on how a historical survey of the neighborhood might increase taxes.

The predominantly African American neighborhood was supposed to be surveyed over the winter to open up the prospect of a historic designation, which may increase funding opportunities to protect historic resources.

Since 2000, at least 36 homes built before 1960 have been razed, including 24 that were built before 1920, according to city documents.

Robert Watkins, an assistant preservation planner and design planner for the city, said that the survey would focus on exterior photographs and surveyors would write brief descriptions of each building constructed before 1960.

“They won’t be coming into your house or knocking on your door or calling you,” he said.

While some were hesitant to support the survey, Ralph Brown, a neighborhood resident, urged the audience to focus more on their story than taxes and assessments, which are going up anyway.

“I’m afraid that in the swirl of this, we’re going to miss an opportunity to document the neighborhood,” he said. Referring to tax payments, he said “that part of it, you don’t have a snowball’s chance to do anything about.”

If the survey continues to be delayed, it could be in jeopardy of even occurring.

In October, the City Council signed off on spending $21,060 received from the state and allocating the remaining matching funds from the city for the $50,900 survey.

The funds require that the survey is finished by June 2020.

Jeff Werner, the city’s historic preservation planner, told the audience that work needs to start by mid-January in order to finish in time. He plans to review the comments from Thursday’s meeting and, if he doesn’t feel a consensus, will take the proposal to the City Council at its Jan. 10 meeting for guidance.

The survey also would determine the boundaries of a possible future National Register of Historic Places district that would provide tax credits to rehabilitation projects.

However, the process to seek that designation would be led by the residents, not city staff.

The neighborhood includes about 480 parcels on roughly 100 acres. It is bordered by 13th Street Northwest, Page Street, railroad tracks on the east side and Preston Avenue.

According to city estimates, 344 of the neighborhood’s 435 structures were built before 1960.

Most of the older structures are single-family homes, with 230 houses built before 1930.

Four apartment buildings and 13 commercial buildings were constructed before 1960.

Four properties have a local historic designation — 134 10th St. NW, which is the former Coca-Cola Bottling building; 946 Grady Ave., Monticello Dairy; 1000 Preston Ave., the Southern Bakery Building; and 212 E. Rosser Ave., which is the Holy Temple Church of Christ.

African Americans make up 54% of the population in the 10th and Page neighborhood, one of the highest levels of any area of the city.

Charlene Green, manager of the city’s Office of Human Rights, said that African American history is being lost as those people leave the city.

“Unless we’re writing down these stories, we’re losing the story of the people who live here,” she said.

According to city documents, the African American presence in the neighborhood was facilitated by John West, an emancipated slave who began amassing real estate after the Civil War. He would later sell the land to African American families.

The Rev. Charles H. Brown also worked with local civil rights leader Drewary Brown in the 1960s to help African American families acquire properties and secure financing to build homes.

The neighborhood is also home to the Westhaven public housing development, which was constructed in the 1960s around the time that the city razed Vinegar Hill, a historically African American neighborhood.

Westhaven won’t be part of the survey because it previously has been documented, but its impact on the neighborhood would be included in a narrative of the 10th and Page history.


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