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NBC reports on vacant 204-year-old Church Hill building

You know the one! The once destination for Grisette, one of the oldest buildings in Richmond is in danger. NBC reports:

Residents have been expressing concerns about safety at the vacant grocery store on 27th Street. A link fence is the only thing separating those waiting at a bus stop street from a leaning frame.The walls don’t need to talk – it’s clear they’ve seen better days. Bricks have fallen and there are violation notices dating back several years. “And then there’s the lead paint … that notice stands on the building to this day,” said Debra Melisi, who lives down the street and is the president of the Church Hill neighborhood association. She says the maroon building was poised for spot blight abatement under then-Mayor Doug Wilder. That program would allow the spot to be listed at market price so someone could spruce it up.

Eric H writes:

The fence was recently moved further out away from the building. I am not even sure why it is still there since the permit for it expired February 18th. I am glad it is though, considering.

Since the owners have no intention of selling or fixing, the ONLY option at this point is Spot Blight Abatement. The city tried imposing it at least 2 or 3 different times and let things slide. Under abatement, the building would be sold at a Fair Market value and not some ridiculous overinflated price the owners mentioned in the past. Then it would not be such a stumbling block restoring it. In any case, it would be an investment in History since this is not your ordinary building.

Back in 2008, many things were happening concerning the building including the owners wanting to demolish it before I intervened. I feel that the owner’s intentions all along were to let it rot to a point that it will need to be demolished and then, sell the corner lot at a premium. That they live in modern homes outside of the district and have no real grip or interest with the city’s history or historical structures. Just like Newbille, who puts progress over preservation.

Revitalization can be a natural process with bringing back neighborhoods and weeding out blight and crime. But we should never forget Richmond’s heritage as being one of the oldest cities in the country and has one of the highest concentrations of original 19th-century architecture as well in the country. Many things have happened since its founding and these rare structures have seen much and withstood more. They could become tourist attractions if/when the city ever embraces its history.

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27 comments

D. Harrington 04/08/2019 at 9:56 AM

Thanks a lot, Charlie

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Patrick Spraker 04/08/2019 at 11:02 AM

Thought I saw guys doing something to it Saturday as I drove by.

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Rita Justice Austera 04/08/2019 at 5:43 PM

There were some workers there. I saw that too.

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DeborahWhite 04/08/2019 at 11:26 PM

I would love to move back and Churchill I’m 66 years old I live on a fixed income everything is high and all of my reach it sure would love to get back in Church Hill do you have a reasonable rent for senior to live on their own I would really like to know thank you

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Eric S. Huffstutler 04/09/2019 at 7:15 AM

Someone (owners) has installed a makeshift support beam using a foundation jack and a 6×6 beam, to push up on the weak and damaged corner of the building. But, unless the person who did that is an architectural engineer, their efforts may cause more dame or accelerate it. in fact, when I left for work yesterday morning, one of the wooden facade columns attached to the building in that area, fell off and was laying across the fence where people standing for the bus would be. It exposed more brick underneath.

If you look at older pictures of the building prior to when the apartment was built, and when it was open to the elements with no windows in around 2010, for a year, you can see a support anchor bolt running through the top of that wall from the front, and was removed at some time, which may or may not have been the beginning of this problem? The archive picture used above shows when it first started when a layer of painted stucco fell off, where one of the cracks is today.

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SA Chaplin 04/09/2019 at 10:33 AM

The legal definition of “blighted property” is so vague that probably the only way to utilize the “spot blight” provisions is if you have an apathetic/absentee owner, or a building that is actually falling down. Lots of perfectly sound buildings have cracks and the occasional falling brick. An engineer would have to tell us whether the building is a danger to passersby.

I applaud Eric’s efforts to keep this building in tact. It appears that the property is in the City Old and Historic District and is in a National Register Historic District. I assume this means the owners would have a difficult time obtaining approval to tear it down. That’s a start. My guess is: money talks —and at some point the owner(s) will entertain a reasonable offer.

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Johnathan 04/09/2019 at 1:48 PM

So let me get this right. A busy body intervenes to stop the demolition ten years ago and now is still complaining abour the disrepair of the building. Eric and others need to buy the building or let the owner demolish and sell the lot. Everyone has a price and if this building is so important than give the owner his asking price and then move forward with renovation. That is assuming other busy bodies don’t try and stop you.

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The U.....nion Hill 04/09/2019 at 4:37 PM

@ Jonathan

If you read the NBC article you would have seen that the owner stated that they have no intention of selling. Also,are you really faulting people for wanting to save a 200 year old building?

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Johnathan 04/09/2019 at 10:16 PM

Yes I am faulting people for trying to save the building. Just because it is old does not mean it’s worth saving and bringing down the whole neighborhood. As far as selling the property; everyone has a price.

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Broad Street 04/10/2019 at 9:56 AM

It’s clear to any passerby that the building has major structural defects and the owner doesn’t have the desire, doesn’t have the financial ability, or doesn’t have the knowledge to fix it. The enforcement history suggests he doesn’t know what he’s doing and doesn’t care.

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SA Chaplin 04/10/2019 at 1:57 PM

@Jonathan – I have to agree with your sentiment, but at the same time I am happy that the building still stands. It is not much to look at, but it has more historical significance than it would appear to have. So kudos to Eric for helping save it. Beyond that, it is up to the owners whether and when to sell. Saving the building versus forcing the owners in their decision making: this is where the line between “good citizen” and “busy-body” ought to be drawn.

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I Live on This Block 04/10/2019 at 3:29 PM

Reminds me of the Eggleston Hotel collapse in Jackson Ward. The notorious slum lord Hansen family patiently waited for the hotel to implode after decades of neglect to build more throw away but highly profitable low-income housing in it’s place that surely has the same deplorable conditions they are famous for. Not much anyone can do, but it sure is nice though when people balance their greed with a respect for the past and also for the future good of a neighborhood.

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Mary Anne 04/10/2019 at 3:59 PM

.4 DeborahWhite – While the original post is on an entirely different topic, in response to your comment about housing try Bowler Home in the 2500 block of East Leigh St. via the New Canaan Housing Foundation!

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crd 04/10/2019 at 6:29 PM

This is known as demolition by neglect. Looks like it’s working, too, which is a shame The owner would have to fight to tear it down years ago, ’cause it’s in the historic district and is a contributing structure,but in the shape it’s in now, maybe not so much. The key words are significant structure to the historic district, and it probably is significant.

@11, there used to be a bit in the enabling legislation for the historic district that enabled the city to force the sale, but the one time they did that the legal dept. botched it and it cost them to fix it. So now they won’t touch that idea.

I too am happy that the building still stands, and appreciate Eric’s attempts.

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crd 04/10/2019 at 6:36 PM

@9 Saving and fixing an historic property does not “bring down the whole neighborhood.” It actually enhances it, that’s what has made historic properties up here important. Do you live here? And if so, how long, and do you live in an infill or an historic building? I’m just curious. For me, yes I live h ere, have for over thirty years, and in an historic building.

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L 04/11/2019 at 5:27 PM

I noticed today the building is being held up by a pump jack that appears to be raised… I’m no expert, but that seems like a really bad idea. Eventually, I would expect the jack to lose pressure. Not sure if it would drop suddenly or settle slowly, but I can only assume that a brick wall shouldn’t be travelling up and down on a regular basis

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L 04/11/2019 at 5:30 PM

Actually, who do we contact if we see something dangerous occurring on the property? I mean, there’s some stuff going on there that seems like it could be a danger to the public and the neighbors. Does code enforcement have an emergency #

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Eric S. Huffstutler 04/11/2019 at 6:05 PM

@14 crd

Can you either send me a PM or elaborate on your comment “there used to be a bit in the enabling legislation for the historic district that enabled the city to force the sale, but the one time they did that the legal dept. botched it and it cost them to fix it. So now they won’t touch that idea.”

This is news to me. As mentioned, back in 2008, then mayor (former state governor) Doug Wilder, approved Spot Blight Abatement and the CAR was not going to intercept but it was never enforced. Was this that time or another?

Are you saying that they will not enforce Spot Blight even though it is eligible because of some sort of error?

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CH 04/11/2019 at 7:13 PM

i witnessed a column fall on sunday afternoon, nearly hitting a passerby in the head as it fell. the chain link fence doesn’t seem as if it’ll prevent anything…

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Liz 04/12/2019 at 6:42 AM

There were two police officers there with someone last evening. Anyone know what that was about?

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L 04/12/2019 at 12:11 PM

@Liz – I don’t want to get mixed up in this any more than I already have, but I called both RPD and the building inspector. Whoever was working on the building left a temporary jack under pressure and went home for the day. Over time, that type of jack tends to lose pressure, which could have a variety of interesting consequences.

Fortunately, it was determined that the pump jack/bottle Jack under the building was not actually providing any support, merely holding the post used to lift the beam in place. I think that’s sti dangerous because the post used to lift the beam into place could fall, but it shouldn’t cause the building to collapse.

I’m not really qualified to comment – although I have lifted a sagging house with Jack’s before, I’m not an engineer and my experience with this kind of thing is limited – so I’ll leave it at this: I don’t understand what they are trying to do to repair the building, but I suspect they don’t either..

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Eric S Huffstutler 04/12/2019 at 10:34 PM

I had heard that the police and someone else was at the building but had no idea why? To me, it looked like a load was on the jack which is why the column fell – changing stress on the bricks and the bulge (bow) seems to have gotten worse as the crack has shifted.

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Liz 04/13/2019 at 8:09 AM

@L – I appreciate you taking the time to address this!

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Eric S Huffstutler 04/14/2019 at 10:37 AM

Still not sure what is going on? The section of stucco seen in white on the photo above, which was later painted red, has either fallen off or removed and a light coating of mortar slapped over the bricks exposed. That does nothing other than possibly help keep some loose bricks from falling out while others still under the cracked wall, is in worse condition. I continue to say that the jack is placing stress on the wall and causing more damage.

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Eric Huffstutler 04/16/2019 at 8:00 PM

I anyone has passed by the building lately, you will see that there has been some shifting I am sure due to the jack. The crack is worse, stucco either removed or fallen off but a slather of mortar on what is exposed. Other areas, have been exposed and show missing bricks and now, a new metal I-Beam shoved under the bad wall but… I am sure was not permitted and also not to code.

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Eric S. Huffstutler 04/19/2019 at 10:57 AM

Someone needs to look into this but, the “Light Construction” building permit which is not specific and expired, was “extended” on February 22nd until August 22nd (180 days) to replace the column and LVL beam. Co-owner and contractor Walter York requested it and was approved (signed off) by Stephen R Pyzowski… but he is listed as a drafting tech II. (PDRLandUse) Department of Planning and Development Review.

Odd is the fact that if this permit (040475-2018) extension was actually issued “February 22nd”, WHY was it not (and still not) posted? WHY was it not mentioned to the reporter for the April 5th news broadcast? Or to anyone since who have been inquiring the city about the building’s safety? And WHY was work not started until last week? Something is a bit odd and off about this informal one-page handwritten “extension” form. If it was actually thought out and not something someone tried to make it look retroactive, the barricade fence permit (040204-2018) that expired February 18th, would have been updated as well.

At the same time, it does not address the already damaged “wall” nor, rebuilding the column and fascia back to the original look.

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Eric S. Huffstutler 04/19/2019 at 11:59 AM

To add to this, Walter S. York III a/k/a York Construction (contractor license # 2705107826) has a limited class license (Class C) and only has a CBC and CIC license for commercial buildings. To rebuild and repair concrete, masonry, or add metal supports you also need to have specialty BRK (masonry), CEM (concrete) and STL (steel) which includes post-tensioning to reinforce concrete buildings and structures. These are all Statutory Code of Virginia requirements normally for restoration work.

“Class C contractors” perform or manage construction, removal, repair, or improvements when (i) the total value referred to in a single contract or project is over $1,000 but less than $10,000, or (ii) the total value of all such construction, removal, repair, or improvements undertaken by such person within any 12-month period is less than $150,000. The Board shall require a master tradesmen license as a condition of licensure for electrical, plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning contractors.

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