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Renovation plans for South Hill police station stir debate

SoVaNow.com / September 15, 2021


A request by South Hill Town Manager Kim Callis to hire an engineering firm for the renovation of the nearly 80-year old police department building touched off a long discussion on procedures and the role of various committees at the Monday night meeting of Town Council.

Callis asked South Hill Council members to approve payment of $17,575 to Dewberry for a basic blueprint that would begin the process of renovating the police building.

The South Hill police station was first put into service in 1942. While the exterior remains in “reasonably good condition,” according to Callis, the interior no long meets the current needs of the department.

“We need to begin planning for the facility to meet both short-term and long-term police department needs,” Callis said.

Larry Hasson with Dewberry, an architectural and engineering firm, has toured the building and determined it would be more financially feasible to renovate the existing building instead of constructing a new one, Callis said. By renovating, there would be no need to relocate the department to a temporary facility.

Callis estimated the cost to develop a basic building floor plan is $17,575 and said it would take 60 days to develop. Council’s budget and finance committee supported the request.

According to Callis, the schematic is the first phase of project. Before any work can begin, a full set of design plans would have to be developed. That would cost between $90,000 and $130,000.

“At that price, the town would be required to request qualifications from other professional firms,” he said.

Council member Gavin Honeycutt asked when the renovations would begin. Callis said planning must start now to realistically include monies for construction in the Town’s FY23 budget. Construction work would not start until July 2022 at the earliest.

Callis speculated that if plans for the renovations were delayed until after July 2022, the costs associated with the project would increase. “We think this is the approach to take and then make an informed decision.”

Shep Moss asked why the professional services portion of the project did not have to be bid. Callis answered that the Town’s small purchase policy only requires South Hill to solicit price quotes from two companies and this was done, but only Dewberry responded.

Moss then asked if the request to pay Dewberry had been reviewed by Council’s police committee. Moss said he raised the question since the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department has been told on more than one occasion that any requests for building improvements must first be reviewed by Council’s fire committee.

Moss said he was told the police department request was not reviewed by the police committee. He asked “if it should be, so we can have the same consistent procedure for our town buildings?”

Mayor Dean Marion asked about the services Dewberry will provide, and how the costs of the renovation fit into the process. Callis replied, “They told us they would come back with a schematic in 60 days that puts us into November. You have December and January and part of February to have these conversations with the police committee and the budget and finance committee to talk about what is the cost of it going to be and what is it going to look like.”

Mike Moody said the plan describes a basic blueprint to get it started, and how offices and work spaces will be laid out and designed. From this plan, “the bidding process goes out. How much electrical you’ll need, if you need new air conditioning systems,” said Moody.

Moss said he wanted the town to seek out other bids to get a price comparison “to make sure we are getting a fair bang for our buck.” And Honeycutt expressed surprise that only one company responded a request to develop a basic schematic for the project.

Callis cautioned Council members against running afoul of Virginia’s procurement law even though he previously told Council that since the schematic will not cost more than $80,000, there is no need to comply with the Virginia law.

Moss made the motion that additional solicitations be sought continuing through October 31. It passed unanimously.

In other business, Council members approved amendments to the Town Charter and Town Code to comply with new legislation adopted by the General Assembly that moves the election date for town offices to November starting in 2022.

Council also approved a request from Michael Hurt for a special exception permit to convert a building at 113 East Atlantic St. into a multi-family dwelling.

The property previously served as the optometry office of Dr. Elton Brown on the ground floor, with a residence above. The new plan would have two residential units, one on the ground floor and a separate one on the second floor.

Carol Johnson, whose property backs up to the Atlantic Street site, asked Council to deny the request. She shared her concern that the inclusion of a multi-family facility in the historic neighborhood would reduce nearby property values and potentially increase crime.

Council member Shep Moss wondered how it was possible that a building in a commercial district could revert back to residential use. Zoning Administrator David Hash said Town Attorney Jimmy Butts said it was possible since the building was previously zoned residential.

Gavin Honeycutt shared his view on the project, seeing it as a way to increase available housing in the area. He said he favored the permit request because now someone will be there to keep up the property. “It is currently a vacant building.”

Hash also assured Council members there is adequate parking onsite.

Delores Luster tried to assuage Johnson saying she would assume that “due diligence will be done before allowing new tenants into the building to make sure that decent and law-abiding citizens will reside in the building.”

Moss also expressed support for the project. “We talk about dilapidated properties. If the new owners are attentive to her [Carol Johnson’s] concerns and if we can take a vacant property and cosmetically fix it and bring it up to code, I would much rather see that than any vacant kind of vacant property here in town.”

Johnson asked Council members if they would set specifications on the types of people who would move in, and sought assurances that Hurt would be held liable for any criminal activity brought to the neighborhood by his prospective tenants.

Vice Mayor Mike Moody responded saying the Town could not control who can rent a property and it would be the responsibility of the victim to file charges with the appropriate authority if any criminal activity should take place in the community.

Council also agreed to support a change to the Southside Planning District Commission Bylaws that would reduce the size of its executive committee from 12 to five members, and the full membership on the board from 28 to 17. The executive committee would meet only as needed, and there would be an increase in dues for member communities and the number of minority members on the board would increase from 25 to 29 percent.

Callis said the change is favorable to South Hill as it increases the voting influence of the town.

A proposal to help employees pursue and maintain healthier lifestyles, including by offering payment of membership costs to gyms/fitness clubs, was nixed by the employees who said they were not interested in a gym membership for a variety of reasons. Instead of paying for gym memberships, Council approved a request by Callis to reimburse employees $20 per month toward the cost of employee-only gym memberships at a facility of their choice.

The reimbursement would be paid twice yearly once the employee certifies his or her use of the facility and produces proof of payment. To cover this cost, Council agreed to appropriate $5,000 to cover the partial reimbursement of employee gym memberships starting September 1.

Joseph Taylor asked if this “has been of a pressing nature” and wondered why it fell outside of the typical budget process. He was told by Callis that it was something the Town was asked to look into “right away.”

Taylor was the only member of Council to oppose the recommendation, which passed on a 6-1 vote. Ben Taylor was absent.

J. Taylor shared his pleasure at finding two local businesses mentioned in a recent edition of Virginia State and City Magazine. He said he was pleased to see both South Hill retailer Lundy Layne and The Mecklenburg Sun newspaper highlighted as “local favorites.” He congratulated Town staff for promoting these businesses. “I’m so proud of them both.”

Honeycutt added that Tony and Gretchen Hayes’s 313 Restaurant was also discussed in the edition.

After a lengthy closed session, Council returned to open session. Delores Luster, as head of Council’s policy committee, moved the adoption of a new communications social media policy. Only Moss and Honeycutt voted no. The policy was approved on a vote of 5-2 with Luster, Moody, J. Taylor, Alex Graham and Lillie Feggins Boone voting for the policy.

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