Residents ask for action on unsightly properties
CH Council mulls options to step up building code enforcement
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Several Colonial Heights citizens are displeased with the aesthetics of the city, and they took to a recent City Council meeting to express their concerns.
Residents approached the podium to ask city officials to address various properties, both residential and commercial, that they say are unsightly and violate city and state codes.
Resident Kathi HarrisTemple complained about Cal’s Inc., a pawn shop and scrap metal dealer that sits at the city gateway at 101 Boulevard. Harris-Temple argued that the business fails to comply with two of the city’s use and design standards for recycling centers and stations: “The site shall be maintained free of litter” and “where receptacles for recyclable materials are located outside of the building, they shall be screened from public view.”
Harris-Temple complained that “dumpsters are not covered, they are in plain view from the Boulevard, and debris is strewn on the lot.” She also said she believes Cal’s is non-compliant with the city’s restrictions on
burning and storage of combustible materials; and refrigerators. The city code, she noted, says that “The doors must be removed from refrigerators, ice boxes or similar household appliances before being placed in a junkyard.”
“This is not the practice currently in place at Cal’s,” Harris-Temple said. “Household appliances have not had doors removed. They are clearly visible in the front part of his parking lot. This is an old law, but untended appliances out in the open are a hazard.”
Cal’s prominent location, Harris-Temple said, gives visitors an unfavorable impression of Colonial Heights.
“Cal’s is located adjacent to the main highway, and it is at the gateway to the city of Colonial Heights on the Boulevard,” she said. “This is people’s first and last impression of Colonial Heights when traveling to and from Petersburg on the Boulevard. This does not give the impression we want to make.”
Harris-Temple asked council to take action immediately, and Mayor Gregory Kochuba
responded that the city manager and city attorney would look into the issues she raised.
Interviewed later, City Manager Douglas Smith said the city has already reached out to Cal’s management. “Regarding the Cal’s property, staff will be meeting with them soon,” he told The Progress-Index. “Also, the mayor has spoken to Cal’s already. The business is willing to work with the city like they have in the past to make improvements.”
Later in the meeting, two more residents asked council to take action on some residential properties that they consider code-breaking and aesthetically-displeasing.
Ann Coffin noted that she has approached council in the past about a property on Forestview Drive. She also noted that Kochuba, Smith and Interim Planning Director Kelly Hall had come out to see the property two months ago, and she said the property has deteriorated further since then.
“I had a real estate lady come and talk to me about selling my house, and she said, ‘What’s with this property next door?’” Coffin said. “I said ‘I don’t know; he doesn’t want to do anything.’”
Hall noted that the Code Enforcement Inspector had sent several
letters to the property owner.
“He doesn’t pick up his mail,” Coffin responded. “The postman says his box is packed full.”
Following the public comments, council members discussed the issue of property appearance, which members said they have tried to resolve over the years. Councilman Joe Green suggested the city look into enhancing its ordinances or creating new ones to address unappealing properties.
“Something needs to be done,” he said. “We are the responsible parties, and this has gone on for — I’m closing in on 11 years here on council that this has been an issue, and it’s still isn’t fixed and I’m ashamed that nothing has been done at this point. And I’m going to hope we can reconsider something … we need to do something.
Other council members agreed that there are several properties in the city that need to be addressed.
Smith pointed out that the city has a number of codes regarding community appearance that they enforce. However, he said, the authority provided by the state to localities for enforcement does not extend to cover all areas that residents may be concerned about.
Kochuba asked Smith to add the topic to September’s work session agenda, and suggested that council use a format it had previously used to inform the public that residential properties violating code were being taken care of.
“It just showed what properties were brought to the code enforcement. Can we go back and kind of dust off that format and re-present that to us at least in the month of September?” Kochuba asked. “The point I’m trying to make is that if we show it here [at council meetings] as a chart, the public knows we’re not just doing nothing. We’re showing them some kind of action is being taken.”
Smith agreed to look into that format.
“Community appearance is a priority for City Council,” Smith said. “The council has previously approved code changes such as requiring fitted car covers for inoperable vehicles and recently changing the placement of solid waste and recycling cans and containers to behind the front of a residence/ business.”
Cal’s scrap yard on the Boulevard in Colonial Heights was criticized for unsightliness at a recent City Council meeting. City Manager Douglas Smith says Cal’s management has already agreed to make improvements.
Colonial Heights officials are looking for ways to get owners to improve the appearance of neglected properties in the city like this one on Forestview Drive.