Trash, grass remain problems in Hopewell
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Feb 17, 2014, 13:42
HOPEWELL — Trash in the streets, junk piling up in yards and abandoned buildings are still plaguing residents in the city of Hopewell. At two town hall meetings last year, many residents stood up and spoke out about the conditions of the city. At a council meeting held Tuesday evening, residents spoke out again to express their disdain for the appearance of yards, streets and buildings in the city.
Last year, the Department of Development, now the Department of Neighborhood Assistance and Planning, made several changes to city code, most specifically city code 18.1, which regulates unlawful accumulations or growth.
Violations were not handed out until grass was 12 inches or higher. Currently, residents are found in violation if their grass is 10 inches or higher.
Not only did council reduce the height of the grass but also the time to comply if found in violation.
If a resident is served with a tall grass violation, they have five days to comply instead of the 10 days. If a resident is found with three civil penalties in a 24-month period, it is a class 3 misdemeanor.
Another change to the city’s code is currently in the hands of the Virginia House of Representatives. Last year, council authorized the legislative committee to add Hopewell to the list of localities that prohibit “any person from keeping, except within a fully enclosed building or structure or otherwise shielded from view, on any property zoned or used for residential purposes, or on any property zoned for commercial or agricultural purposes.”
SB 64 has passed through the Senate with a vote of 32-to-6 and as of Feb. 11, the bill has been assigned to the House Counties, Cities and Towns Sub-Committee.
Right now city code 25-54, or state code 15.2-904 states residents can have an inoperable vehicle parked outside as long as it has a car cover.
If the bill passes through the House, residents would be able to own an unlimited number of inoperable vehicles, however they have to be stored in a fully enclosed building or structure and they have to be screened from view.
Despite the changes that have been made and the changes that will possibly be forthcoming, the appearance of the city is still a thorn in the side of residents. Councilor Jackie Shornak, spearheaded the discussion at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
“I feel like we’ve made very little progress in the cleaning up the city in a year’s time,” Shornak began, referring to the town hall meetings held last year. She said the city is on a verge of change with the opening of the Beacon Theatre and renovations wrapping up at the Marina and it is now time to beautify the rest of Hopewell.
“We are on the road to trying to be a beacon of light to our city,” Shornak said. “... I’m not ready to give this city up. It’s time we listen to the people in the city of Hopewell.”
Tevya Griffin, director of Department of Neighborhood Assistance and Planning, said though the council had approved the changes to city code, there are still issues that remain, especially with only two code inspectors for 10.8 square miles and 10,121 housing units.
Several issues have arisen with city code 18.1, including the time frame for compliance, repeat offenders of tall grass and weeds and trash and debris, liens against properties are not being paid, and trash and debris continue to remain on the main thoroughfares in the city.
Griffin offered up some possible solutions to the problems that have begun to surface within code enforcement, though noting many changes will be hard to accomplish with just two inspectors.
When residents are given a violation for tall grass or weeds, they are given five days to comply. If not in compliance within that time frame, a contractor will come out and cut the grass, and tack a fee for cutting the grass as well as an administrative fee. The owner has 30 days to pay or a lien is placed on the property. Instead of placing the lien on the property, the fee will be added to the real estate bill to ensure payment. Another change will be to add the thoroughfares as a priority each business day.
Though some code enforcement issues remain with the non-compliance of residents, other problems are in the courtrooms of Hopewell. Part of code enforcement includes property maintenance inspections. Violations of this nature include repairing damaged electrical wiring, replacing broken windows, repairing damaged structural elements such as columns or joists, and repairing leaking plumbing and roofs.
The process for citation includes the inspector conducting the site visit and the property being cited for a violation. Once the citation is given, the owner has 30 days to remedy the issue and if within those 30 days the issue is not remedied, the owner is taken to court. While the judge can hand down extensions or require payment of civil penalties, most cases are dismissed.
Residents also made sure to have their voices heard at the council meeting, as several stood up to speak on the appearance of the city, crying out against overflowing trash cans, houses with several “junk” cars in the front yard, trash lining the streets and empty buildings falling apart all around the city.
Despite the anger that poured out of the mouth of several residents on Tuesday night, there were no steps taken at the meeting to remedy some of the problems that exist within code enforcement. While Griffin presented some solutions to the current problems, it is clear that more help is needed in the department, as she told council a rental inspector and administrative assistant is needed along with a building inspector and property maintenance inspector.