Now that St. Albans city council has denied a rezoning request that would have allowed a builder to put townhouses in an area not zoned for townhouses, I hope they will turn their attention to a long range strategy for how to get more businesses, not more residential housing, within the city limits. Real estate brokers' argument that St. Albans needs more residential housing just doesn't hold water. St. Albans dramatic population loss has created a huge inventory of empty houses all over town as anyone who walks the wards with me would soon see for themselves.
No, a city whose population has declined dramatically since I was growing up here in the 60s and 70s doesn't need more housing, it needs a plan to get St. Albans on the grow.
Unlike its neighbors - Nitro, South Charleston, Dunbar - St. Albans doesn't really have much of a business tax base. Many of the businesses with a 25177 address aren't in the city limits of St. Albans which means they aren't putting money in the city coffers. STARDA - St. Albans Regional Development Authority - was formed in April of 1990, in part, to find solutions to this problem but a succession of mayors who saw STARDA as a competitor de-funded STARDA so none of STARDA's "infill" and annexation plans have been accomplished.
No, with a declining population and a glut of empty houses, St. Albans won't need more residential housing until people are trying to move into St. Albans instead of away from it and for that to happen, St. Albans needs a strategic plan. That plan should include:
1. Main Street - St. Albans doesn't really have one. The newly-remodeled Alban Arts and Conference Center is a step in the right direction but that alone doesn't make St. Albans' Main Street a destination.
2. The approaches to the city - Every time there's a crime committed in "West St. Albans", Chemical City, Amandaville, Jefferson or Green Valley Drive, St. Albans' gets a black eye. We probably can't break lazy reporters from saying "St. Albans" when the meth house was really in one of the unincorporated approaches to St. Albans, so St. Albans should take a serious look at annexing these crime-ridden eyesores so we can tax the legitimate, desirable businesses, shut down the rest and clean up these filthy gateways to the city. If we can't bring business to St. Albans maybe we have to take St. Albans to the business.
In 2 years when mayoral and council candidates ask you for your vote, ask them how they plan to get more businesses within the city limits of St. Albans. Don't vote for any candidate who stutters and stammers and gets a deer-in-the-headlights look in his eyes when you ask that question. This question should be St. Albans' voters equivalent of the famous "Roger Mudd Moment" when the veteran newsman asked Senator Edward Kennedy why he wanted to be president and Kennedy's eyes glazed over as he stammered his way through the unpresidential answer that some say sealed his defeat.
Attention 20-somethings and 30-somethings: St. Albans' leadership vacuum is an opportunity for you to lead. If you have a plan, run for office. 2013 will be here before you know it.
Now that St. Albans city council has dispensed with the distraction over the townhouses, I hope the "No Rezoning" signs I see all over ward 6 will be replaced by a citywide discussion about St. Albans' future and a strategic plan to realize that future.
You can start that discussion at LinkedSt.Albans on Linkedin.
Higginbotham At Large doesn't accept reader comments for publication but you can email me at JosephHigginbotham@gmail.com.
Higginbotham At Large is not a candidate for any elected office.