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City board approves rezoning for Southside fire training facility

The Hickory Hill low-lying field in question next to a Richmond Fire Department engine.
Patrick Larsen
VPM News
A Richmond Fire Department sits parked next to the planned location of a new fire training facility

Richmond's City Council recently greenlit the project over multiple committee rejections.

On Wednesday, the Richmond Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved an exception that will permit construction of a new fire training facility near the Hickory Hill Community Center — weeks after City Council greenlit the project over multiple committee rejections.

As VPM News previously reported, City Council voted to move forward with the plans to build a new facility at 3000 E. Belt Blvd. in Southside. But council OK'd the site over rejections from the city’s Urban Design Committee, City Planning Commission, widespread community concern — and, apparently, without the correct zoning.

“There is no increase in public danger from fire ... as there will be the presence of trained emergency response personnel at all times the training facility is in operation,” said L. Dexter Goode, a senior capital projects manager with the city, at Wednesday’s hearing. “Nothing will be openly stored in the secured fenced area of the site that will pose a safety hazard of any type.”

Fire Chief Melvin Carter told the five-person board that renting time at facilities in other localities is too costly to remain feasible, due to both the expense and the removal of critical first responders from the city.

And the lack of guaranteed training space for Richmond's fire department is an ongoing problem.

"Henrico isn't always available, nor is Chesterfield. And we have plans now to travel as far as Blackstone [in Nottoway County] to use training facilities," Carter said, "when we are in dire need of our own training facility."

Monica Esparza, a local activist and minister who has been a vocal opponent of the project, said during comment that this facility “exacerbates current racial disparities in land use, environmental health and city services.”

VPM News' Patrick Larsen contributed reporting.