The sticking point

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Yes, there is the minor matter of paying for it. Apparently it is agreed that if the current downtown section of Suffolk is intended to become the jewel in the former Nansemond County crown the center must be surrounded by expensive &uot;protective&uot; measures. In less than plain English that means the surrounding blocks of residences, and or businesses, must meet the requirements of the central theme established by those who invest capital. In plainer English it means that surrounding &uot;slum&uot; areas, if any, would detract from the art, entertainment, and shopping luster. There must be no opportunity for drunks, pan-handlers, homeless, or criminals to wonder in from the nearby three blocks, night or day, to despoil the intended &uot;leitmotiv.&uot;

No problem, certain blocks of buildings need to restored, or removed. But dare we ask why they exist in the first place? I can think of three words that often fit together nicely: rent, slum and landlord. The renter didn’t build the building, has no responsibility to keep it up, and is usually residing there because it is all that person(s) can afford. And the landlords are often correct when they insist that deliberately set low income from the renter leaves little for building maintenance.

When those houses were first constructed they were most likely fine homes, freshly painted, well furnished. So what went wrong, why the deterioration? The sad end is the result of both Nansemond County and Suffolk the town being in no position to halt decline, no enforceable rules in place to prevent it. Even now with the annoying UDO codes to deal with there are no rules for maintenance, no city employees inspecting upkeep or downkeep. Owners must buy costly building permits to improve or replace property, a kind of controlling punishment, but permits are not required to let things fall apart. When it comes to decline City officials everywhere find themselves with an empty barn long after the horse is reported missing. David Freeman’s title, Director of Neighborhood Development, is a misnomer and he should be renamed &uot;Slum Preventor&uot; His challenging position reminds me of Lucy Arnez failing to box the chocolates as fast as they came down the assembly belt.

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What needs to be done in certain parts of our downtown is not only expensive; there is no practical way to do it. It’s not like restoring the Luke house, which is like filling one bad tooth; the areas in question needs all the teeth pulled. But it would cost a ton of money to buy out the landlords even though many of the &uot;teeth&uot; involved are decayed to a point of beyond saving. But why should the landlord sell if it is providing income and tax losses via depreciation schedules that often make it lucrative? Besides, in this country our successful landlords constantly lobby for favorable rules. Even at the county, city, town, or village level you often find successful landlords in control of local government.

It is relatively easy to say, &uot;we must find a solution even if it will be painful and costly.&uot; But we have a quandary when landlords expect the city to find a solution while the city hopes the landlords will upgrade or eliminate? What ever is decided it is more than likely that the ordinary taxpayer will eventually foot the bill. Have you ever heard of those in control stopping any expenditure so that they may fund another? Sorry, it never happens.

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Do you suppose VDOT could find a way to permit at least one-way traffic on Lake Prince Drive? Arguing over who will pay for the repairs is one thing; inconvenience for residents is another. VDOT suggests this repair will take a year but only God, who some believe caused the damage, knows why. OK, so open one lane, the few people that live out that way are not stupid and can regulate themselves with courtesy. I’ll tell you what, VDOT, after dark we slip through anyway.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be contacted via e-mail at: