Zion Hill area to get upfit

CMOG planners Gregory Sprouse and John Newman and Fairfield County Director of Community Development Chris Clauson met with the Zion Hill community. | Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – A new day may be dawning for the residents of Zion Hill and Fortune Springs Park neighborhoods.

Planners hired by the county to look into the possibility of revitalizing the two neighborhoods are applying this week for a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to begin the first phase of a full scale, long term revitalization operation.

Central Midlands Council of Governments (CMCOG) planners Gregory Sprouse, Director of Research, Planning and Development, and John Newman, along with Chris Clauson, Fairfield Community Development Director, have spent the better part of the summer analyzing the needs of the Zion Hill and Fortune Springs Park neighborhoods. They have walked the neighborhood visiting with residents and finding out what can be done to rejuvenate the area. The planners are also tasked with estimating the cost of the project.

While they found the needs to be many, Sprouse said the initial focus will be on the demolition and cleanup of up to 40 vacant, dilapidated homes in the area.

“We took all the info we heard from you at the last meeting and talking to you in the neighborhood,” Sprouse said during a second gathering of neighbors at the Fairfield High alumni building on Sept. 17. “We’ve engaged with over 70 people either in the first meeting or in stakeholder interviews, and the greatest concern expressed by 70 percent of you is the dilapidated housing in your neighborhood. We want you to know that we’ve heard you,” Sprouse assured the gathering.

“We’re also trying to get some funding as part of this package for emergency housing rehabilitation for qualifying owner-occupied units. If there are some folks who desperately need roof, porch, foundation or other exterior repairs to help stabilize a house, we could apply some of this funding for that,” Sprouse said.

Other maybes include new street security lights and cameras for key areas, particularly around Zion Hill Park, increased patrols coupled with signage to let people know the area is under police surveillance.

“These are rather low cost improvements that can help discourage speeders,” Sprouse said. “We’re also looking at landscaping opportunities in key areas. Part of the idea is trying to create a neighborhood identity with gateways into the community and beautification of those areas.”

Aside from the CDBG, Clauson is in the process of applying for transportation alternative funding which would provide for some transportation accessibility improvements in Fortune Springs Park.

“Mitigating the drainage issues there and improving conductivity will allow access from some of the neighborhoods into the sidewalks in the park. There‘re no real defined shoulders in the park so it’s not safe there,” Clauson said.

The plans also call for new playground equipment, picnic and shade structures particularly in Zion Hill Park.

“That’s something that CDBG doesn’t typically cover, but for a fairly low cost we could get some of that implemented in the park,” Clauson said. “We are committed to pursuing opportunities to make that happen.”

Sprouse noted that the Zion Hill/Fortune Springs Park area has a number of community assets that can be leveraged to improve the neighborhood.

One asset is the proximity of the neighborhood to downtown.

“And Fortune Springs Park is a regional asset,” Sprouse said. “It was once a destination for people all across the county to come and swim and picnic. Other assets include the recreational ball fields, the old Gordon school, the Fairfield High Alumni building, the Zion Hill Park, the main library branch, the affordable housing in the senior living complex, the former hospital site that could be redeveloped over time and many more.”

Sprouse said the focus of the efforts for the Zion Hill/Fortune Springs Park area coincide well with a census designation.

“That’s what the Department of Commerce’s CDBG program uses to determine eligibility for funding,” Sprouse said. “They also look for neighborhoods that are 51 percent or more at low and moderate income. This area qualifies at 63.4 percent. Winnsboro, itself, is about 63 percent and the county is 59 percent.”

While the population of the neighborhood is about 1,200, Sprouse said the trend is spiraling downward at about a 10 percent since 2015.

“About 50 percent of the houses were built between 1950-59 and not much after 2010. It is an aging housing stock which means we are going to have a lot of upkeep and maintenance issues as people leave and properties change hands,” Sprouse said.

“If phase one is successful, we will submit for funding next fall for phase two to continue funding for some of the demolition activities, probably try to step up the funding for the limited housing rehabilitation,” Sprouse said. “We also want to pursue working with other non-governmental partners such as Habitat for Humanity.”

Sprouse said he also hopes to continue improving public safety, landscaping, playground and tennis court improvements in Fortune Springs Park. He said he would be applying for funds for two high priority sewer projects in the spring infrastructure round that will benefit the community.

“In the long term, we want to bring new, quality, affordable housing back to the area where we’re taking houses down. Vacant lots can become an issue unto themselves,” Sprouse said.

Other long term goals are to Identify and prioritize potential trail connection opportunities in the entire study area to better connect residents.

Last, Sprouse said in order to make all this happen, and to continue the effort into the future, it’s important to establish some type of neighborhood organization or collaborative effort to help with things like crime watch, communication and engagement with the police department, county and town.

“We have a good starting point with the Fairfield High Alumni Association. Because they are so engaged and so many of you work with them, it’s an immediate thing we could start talking about. It doesn’t have to be a formalized organization, but just a group of engaged citizens willing to help be leaders in the community,” Sprouse said. “I think a lot of you all fit that profile.”