RICHMOND -- The scene in Chelsea Village mirrors that of a typical subdivision on a summer evening: A youngster rides a tricycle; nearby a man washes his car.
But Chelsea Village is different from most other neighborhoods in Richmond. According to a timetable the city has laid out, the community won't exist in another year.
Built on a reclaimed landfill, Chelsea Village is sinking. The resulting structural damage to the houses has reached a point where the city has decided to buy the homes and bulldoze the subdivision.
The city council in April approved $2 million to buy Chelsea Village's 41 houses, help residents relocate and pay contractors to cap off the utilities and clear the subdivision, leaving an open field.
The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which is spearheading the Chelsea Village project, plans to begin making offers on the three-bedroom town houses this month.
"We're going to accommodate everyone's needs," said Robert S. Everton, director of the authority's department of community development. "We're not going to push anyone out until they have suitable housing."
Chelsea Village was built in 1972 on land the city gave to Better Richmond Inc., a private, nonprofit corporation established by citizens to help provide affordable housing for low-income families.
The houses are on what were thought to be sufficiently supported foundations. Sewer lines were shored up with trusses designed to prevent them from settling with the land.
From a public works standpoint, Chelsea Village has not been a major problem in recent years, said Fred Hughes, chief of the bureau of operations for the city's Department of Public Works.
There was a sewer line break about four years ago at the subdivision, Hughes said, "but that was just kind of one of those natural-type sewer breaks. It wasn't anything real unusual.
"There haven't been any cave-ins or anything like that," he said. "Everything we've had has been routine -- nothing more than would be typical in almost any type of subdivision."
The picture changes dramatically inside Chelsea Village's homes. Many residents have reported problems ranging from cracked pipes and walls to shifting floors and jammed windows and doors.
Better Richmond, the developer of Chelsea Village, has long since disbanded. That leaves the city as the most likely entity to help the subdivision's residents.
The city has not been sued over the Chelsea Village problems. The city's attorney, Tim Oksman, said it appears unlikely the city could be held liable if a lawsuit were to arise. Oksman said that the city was not the developer and the subdivision was built nearly 20 years ago.
"We don't see any risk of city liability," he said. "Beyond that, it's a moral question of should the city try to help the people, and I think we're doing the right thing."
The housing authority's Everton said nearly half the houses in Chelsea Village are owned by landlords who lease the units to tenants.
The city will pay the landlords fair market value and help the tenants find new housing, Everton said.
In the remaining cases, the city will pay owner-occupants for the cost of a comparable property, Everton said.
Once again, residents will receive assistance in finding other housing if they want it, he said.
"The people aren't going to get hurt in the process," Everton said. "They're going to be able to receive comparable housing in the city of Richmond. They're not going to end up with less than they have today.
"We'll help those that want help," Everton said. "Part of our charge is to work with them."