The Dearington Elementary School for Innovation cafeteria buzzed with lively discussion about the future of the Dearington neighborhood, questions about community resources and the smell of warm pizza.
Residents of the Dearington area gathered Thursday afternoon at the school for an open house featuring representatives from community resources and city planners to see an outline of the Dearington Neighborhood Plan draft — a document that will outline changes residents want to see and a plan on how to make those changes. Feedback from Dearington residents and input from city staff will inform the details of the plan.
The three-hour open house attracted a slow stream of residents who could give feedback at nine tables scattered around the school cafeteria. Multiple other tables featured information on the city and its resources, such as the Lynchburg Museum System, the Lynchburg Fire Department, the Greater Lynchburg Transportation Company, and Lynchburg City Schools.
City Planner Anne Nygaard said the initiative started last winter, when applications for Community Development Block Grants opened — a program which helps localities request money from Housing and Urban Development for specific community projects. In September, a group of 8 to 10 Dearington community members met for the first time to guide the planning process.
“The city’s been doing small area plans for a really long time,” Nygaard said, and Dearington was suggested as an area that could benefit from a plan — city council approved the plan in May.
Vivian Camm, Ethel Reeves, Walter Allen, Angela Cox, Kimberly Dyke-Harsley, Debbie Bryant, and Robert Flood attended the last steering committee meeting. Chantal Gunn and Jennie Dyke agreed to serve on the committee but were unable to attend the first meeting, Nygaard said.
Dearington resident Penny Young said she has lived in a house near the elementary school for the past 52 years and is grateful to see a plan being created for her neighborhood.
“If we’ve got any concerns, they can be addressed,” she said, adding she hopes the plan includes changes to traffic patterns to slow down drivers.
The 240-acre neighborhood sits in the middle of Lynchburg, bordered by Langhorne Road, 5th Street, Lynchburg General Hospital and the Old City Cemetery.
Over 1,000 people live in the neighborhood, which was annexed into the city in the 1920s and contains 338 structures, said City Planner Anne Nygaard, who is spearheading the Dearington plan.
Jefferson Park, which sits in the middle of the neighborhood, was a park originally dedicated to African Americans in Lynchburg during the segregation era, Nygaard said. The park used to contain the only public pool open to the African American community, she said, but the pool closed during desegregation and the park then became a landfill until 1966.
“That’s something that we want to talk openly about,” Nygaard said of the park’s contentious past, and one resident brought it up to Nygaard at the open house.
Kay Reid moved to Dearington in 2018 and said she likes the quietness of the neighborhood.
“I think that, historically, Dearington has sort of been left out of the upgrades,” Reid said, adding the open house could lead to “a lot of community involvement that I think we could benefit from.”
Another resident, Jennie Dyke, has lived in Dearington since 1987 and her five grandchildren attended Dearington Elementary.
“I have some very good neighbors,” Dyke said. She added she would like to see the city install speed bumps to prevent cars speeding down the streets, and a pavilion with tables at the elementary school playground.
Mayor Treney Tweedy attended the event and said she feels it’s important for citizens to attend community meetings and give feedback on their neighborhood.
“This is a historical neighborhood,” Tweedy said. “It has its own past.”
Nygaard said the city plans to meet with Dearington community members again soon. “We want to make sure we’re hearing what we think we’re hearing,” she said.
The city is also working on just one other neighborhood plan currently — a plan for the Tyreeanna and Pleasant Valley area, a community situated on the eastern edge of Lynchburg. City Planner Rachel Frischeisen said a draft of the Tyreeanna/Pleasant Valley Neighborhood Plan should be made public in January.
Olivia Johnson covers the city of Lynchburg for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5537.