RICHMOND, Va. -- During the last snowstorm, I wandered through the city Department of Public Works Parker Field Operations Center as workers there got ready for the evening’s plowing. This where many of the city’s dump trucks, chippers, mixers, front end loaders, salt spreaders and a host of other equipment resides.
This is the center off the Boulevard, beside the Sports Backers facility and the Diamond baseball field. You can see it a little better from the Boulevard now that the city’s vast fleet maintenance building has been torn down and the property bulldozed.
But for decades, the facility was largely hidden from public view. Which is probably why it looks like it does.
During my walkabout, I found a storage building with a roof that has partially fallen down. And you can see though big parts of the rest of it. Inside that shed are two large deck mowers, assorted parts and jugs of chemicals. There are no front doors on the building and the rear door is ajar.
Another nearby shed has its door wide open and has clearly been like that for years, which a mishmash of trash and unneeded materials covered by dust and dirt.
Railings dangle dangerously above the old coal platform, which is where the city hangs its salt and sand spreaders when they’re not mounted on the back of dump trucks.
Buildings have holes in them, missing windows or boarded up windows. Rotten soffit and facia and an electrical fixture hang from a roof that clearly has been neglected for years.
There are tangles of pipes and other materials. Old propane tanks sit rusting in an overgrown yard and piles of used tires are piled haphazardly beside storage containers, which appear to violate state fire code 3405.3: Tire storage piles shall be separated by a clear space of at least 40 feet (12 192 mm) from piles of other stored product.
From what I saw (and what you can see from the video accompanying this story), DPW’s Parker Field Operations Center appears to be in conflict with the following city property and building maintenance directives:
Roofs must be sound and tight and have no defects that admit rain into the interior.
Exterior walls and trim should be free from holes and breaks.
Exterior doors and hardware should be maintained in good condition, doors should close tightly.
Windows should be kept in sound condition and repair and not admit rain or wind.
Walkways and driveway should be kept in proper repair, free of trip hazards
Vacant structures are to be secured from public entry. The fact that a structure is vacant does not exempt it from proper maintenance of the exterior.
I showed my video to developer Charlie Diradour (Lion’s Paw Development), who is active in the city politics.
“Any average business person who left their property looking like that would be visited by . . . probably CAPS (Community Assisted Public Safety) for code enforcement and cited,” Diradour said. “I was surprised looking at the video how unsafe some of those properties are.”
A week ago, I contacted the Department of Public Works and the city’s public relations department, which is where you start if you’re a member of the news media asking any kind of questions.
I was referred to DPW spokeswoman Sharon North, who, after two days, said the Department of Public Works is slated to leave that property and many of the buildings will be demolished. The operations center will eventually be located in South Richmond, North said.
She was unable to say when this move might occur. She offered no response to my questions about the apparent code violations there that had been allowed to languish for some time. She did raise the question about whether I was trespassing during my examination of the property. My response: I saw no warning signs, tapes, chains or anything else indicating this city property was off limits.
Diradour said the city should abide by the rules that they enforce for residents and business owners. DPW workers deserve to have a safe environment and the public deserves its city-owned property to look presentable, he said. That’s why the codes are there, for everyone, he said.
“It’s not a matter of pointing your finger at the mayor or pointing your finger at the CAO (Chief Administrative Officer),” Diradour said. “It’s about the details. And if we don’t take care of the details in this city, we’re not going to be able to do the big things they are talking about doing in this city.”