Urban Renewal Authority

Urban Renewal Authority

An Urban Renewal Authority (URA) is a public body created to acquire, prepare, develop, redevelop, and sell or lease neglected properties in slum or blighted areas.

Historically, URAs have been used to redevelop a particular property for a particular purpose. As URAs have matured, they have been used to target entire blocks and neighborhoods that have vacant and dilapidated properties.

URAs can only be active after both a comprehensive plan and a redevelopment plan are created and adopted. As a result, URAs have advanced systems for inventorying and prioritizing properties. URAs have potential to gain enough resources and expertise to redevelop all slum or blighted areas within their communities. While the URA statute limits the area where a URA is authorized to purchase property, designated areas may change over time.

Benefits of Targeting Designated Areas

Public Participation: Both comprehensive plans and redevelopment plans require a certain amount of public participation. The public designation of redevelopment areas helps ensure that public dollars are spent in areas of importance to the community.

Grant Funding: Certain foundations and sources of funding may require or favor projects within designated areas. For example, the West Virginia Development Office requires that a community develop a Community Development Plan to be eligible for a Small Cities Block Grant. 1 A comprehensive plan may be considered in lieu of a community development plan.

Prerequisites

Comprehensive Plan: URA property development must be in accordance with general plans. 2 A general plan is assumed to mean a comprehensive plan under the current West Virginia land use planning laws. A comprehensive plan “is a process through which citizen participation and thorough analysis are used to develop a set of strategies that establish as clearly and practically as possible the best and most appropriate future development of the area under the jurisdiction of the planning commission.” 3 See Appendix A for more information about comprehensive plans.

Resolution: Whether working individually or as part of a regional URA, municipalities and counties must adopt a resolution before the URA may transact business or exercise its powers. 4

Redevelopment Plan: URA property development must be in accordance with a redevelopment plan. A redevelopment plan means “a plan for the acquisition, clearance, reconstruction, rehabilitation, or future use of a redevelopment project area.” 5

West Virginia Code § 16-18-6


A redevelopment plan shall be sufficiently complete to indicate its relationship to definite local objectives as to appropriate land uses, improved traffic, public transportation, public utilities, recreational and community facilities and other public improvements and the proposed land uses and building requirements in the redevelopment project area, and shall include, without being limited to:

  1. The boundaries of the redevelopment project area, with a map showing the existing uses and conditions of the real property therein;
  2. A land use plan showing proposed uses of the area;
  3. Information showing the standards of population densities, land coverage, and building intensities in the area after redevelopment;
  4. A statement of the proposed changes, if any, in zoning ordinances or maps, street layouts, street levels or grades, building codes and ordinances;
  5. A site plan of the area; and
  6. A statement as to the kind and number of additional public facilities or utilities that will be required to support the new land uses in the area after redevelopment. 6

For excerpts on the relevant statutory language related to redevelopment plans for a URA, see Appendix E.

Designation that the area is slum or blighted:

In order for a community to utilize URAs to address slum or blighted property, it must contain property designated as slum or blighted according to the following definitions. 7

Slum area means “an area in which there is a predominance of buildings or improvements or which is predominantly residential in character, and which, by reason of dilapidation, deterioration, age or obsolescence, inadequate provision for ventilation, light, air, sanitation, or open spaces, high density of population and overcrowding, or the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or any combination of such factors, is conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, juvenile delinquency and crime, and is detrimental to the public health, safety, morals or welfare.” 8

Blighted area means “an area, other than a slum area, which by reason of the predominance of defective or inadequate street layout, faulty lot layout in relation to size, adequacy, accessibility or usefulness, unsanitary or unsafe conditions, deterioration of site improvement, diversity of ownership, tax or special assessment delinquency exceeding the fair value of the land, defective or unusual conditions of title, improper subdivision or obsolete platting, or the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or any combination of such factors, substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the community, retards the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability and is a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare in its present condition and use.” 9

Note: To help interpret the complex definitions of “slum area” and “blighted area,” the LUSD Law Clinic worked with the City of Wellsburg to create a “Slum & Blighted Property Checklist.” This checklist is available in Appendix H.

Area of Operation: Municipal URAs may address slum or blighted areas within the municipality and the area within five miles of its territorial boundaries. County URAs may address slum or blighted areas within the county. Regional URAs may address slum or blighted areas within the communities for which the regional authority is created. A URA’s area of operation can never extend into the territorial boundaries of a municipality without a resolution from that municipality. URAs may not address slum or blighted areas within the jurisdictional boundaries of another URA without the neighboring URA’s consent. 10

Advantages

  • URAs make acquisition and disposition decisions based on formal processes that incorporate input from the community
  • Dedicated URA staff with the expertise and capacity to address neglected properties may be able to address neglected properties in a more efficient and cost-effective manner than groups addressing properties on an individualized basis
  • URAs are long-term landowners with the patience to hold onto property until an appropriate reuse can be identified
  • URAs have the power of eminent domain, with limitations 11
  • URAs may compete with developers and other purchasers during the tax sale process
  • URA property is tax-exempt until it is granted to a redeveloper for redevelopment 12

Disadvantages

  • The acquisition, redevelopment, and marketing of properties is time-consuming and expensive
  • URAs are not authorized to acquire property unless they do so in a community that has a comprehensive plan, a redevelopment plan, and areas designated as slum or blighted
  • Plans and processes may require additional resources to pay staff or consultants

Funding

URAs are not self-financing. Given the low value of most vacant and dilapidated properties, URAs face difficulties earning significant income from sale, rent, or leasehold payments. However, URAs are authorized to receive grants and loans from other public and private sources. URAs may also issue a bond or mortgage their property.

Community Highlight

Charleston, West Virginia, established the state’s first URA in 1952 and began its first project in 1958. The mission of the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority (CURA) is “to provide expertise and resources to partner with public and private entities to develop and enhance the City of Charleston to be a relevant place to work and live.” 13 CURA’s primary areas of focus relate to acquiring property, improving infrastructure, addressing blight and private redevelopment, developing community projects, and providing assistance to other agencies. Its accomplishments range from the development of entire city blocks to funding grants such as façade easements. CURA maintains a list of its properties on its website. Listings include general real estate information and describe any additional incentives offered, such as “the City is matching up to 5000 dollars to redo outside of building.” 14

Usage in West Virginia

As of July 2015, the following West Virginia communities have an Urban Renewal Authority:

  • City of Charleston 15
  • City of Clarksburg 16
  • City of Fairmont 17
  • Fayette County 18
  • City of Huntington 19
  • Town of Nutter Fort 20
  • City of Parkersburg 21
  • City of Wellsburg 22


  1. W. Va. Dev. Office, Small Cities Block Grant Program: 2012 Application Forms, available at http://www.wvcommerce.org/App_Media/assets/doc/peopleandplaces/small_cities_ block_grant/2012_SCBG_Application.pdf (last accessed Jul. 7, 2015).
  2. W. Va. Code Ann. § 16-18-2 (West 2015).
  3. Id. § 8A-3-1.
  4. Id. § 8A-3-1(b).
  5. Id. § 16-18-3(r).
  6. Id. § 16-18-6(d).
  7. Id. § 16-18-4(b)(1).
  8. Id. § 16-18-3(t).
  9. Id. § 16-18-3(c).
  10. Id. § 16-18-3(a).
  11. Id. § 16-18-8.
  12. Id. § 16-18-15(b). Note that exceptions exist for remedies related to mortgages, pledges, or liens given by an authority on its rents, fees, grants, or revenues.
  13. Charleston Urban Renewal Authority, 2013-2014 Annual Report (2014), available at http://curawv.org/PDFs/CURA_AR2013-2014.pdf.
  14. James Edward Property Listings, http://www.showcase.com/jedwardscura@wvdsl.net#&&/
  15. wEXAQURV29ya2Zsb3dIaXN0b3J5SUQFJDYzZGRkMDczLWUxOTktNDE1Zi04NWQ1LTNlY2I3ZGUwYjVjOZ7/YAkuKxlLr3htfzWE5fHbF45R (last visited Jun. 30, 2015).
  16. Charleston Urban Renewal Authority, http://curawv.org (last visited Jun. 30, 2015).
  17. Clarksburg, WV, Urban Renewal Authority, http://www.cityofclarksburgwv.com/government/boards-a-commissions/urban-renewal-authority (last visited Jun. 30, 2015).
  18. The City of Fairmont West Virginia, Urban Renewal Authority, http://www.fairmontwv.gov/352/Urban-Renewal-Authority (last visited Jun. 30, 2015).
  19. Fayette County, West Virginia, Urban Renewal Authority, http://www.fayettecounty.wv.gov/urban_renewal_authority/Pages/default.aspx (last visited Jun. 30, 2015).
  20. Land Bank, Huntington’s Urban Renewal Authority, http://huralandbank.com (last visited Jun. 30, 2015).
  21. Nutterfort, W. Va., Ordinance §§ 1132.01-1132.07 (2003), available at https://www.townofnutterfort.com/uploads/Ordinance_1132.pdf.
  22. Meetings, The City of Parkersburg, http://parkersburgcity.com/wp/meetings/ (last visited Jul. 6, 2015).
  23. See EPA Brownfileds Site-Specific Hazardous Cleanup Grant Application, Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle (2014), available at http://wvbrownfields. org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/2014/12/wellsburg-brooke-glass-fyis-cleanup-grant-application-draft-12-1-14.pdf.
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