Business operators around the site of last year’s strip-mall explosion on Miller Circle said the “eyesore” needs to be addressed after nearly 12 months.
“It doesn’t look like the USA,” said Nala Hardy, a Kurdish immigrant and owner of Hardy Cars and Trading across Blacks Run from the site. “It looks like north Syria.”
An explosion on Oct. 17, 2020 destroyed the strip mall and sent three people to the hospital. Investigators determined a natural gas leak inside the building was the cause of the explosion and ensuing fire, city officials announced two days later.
The building had an assessed value of $357,200, according to the Harrisonburg geographic information system, with the land assessed at $236,700 for a total of $610,000 including outbuildings and other improvements. Contact information for the property owner, Broadway Condos LLC registered in Silver Spring, Md., could not be found Thursday.
City spokesperson Michael Parks said the explosion required many different groups, such as insurance agencies, to come together to review the incident and that has led to the longevity of the clean-up process.
“We actually believe there will be some movement [to clean the site] here relatively soon,” Parks said in a Thursday email. “The reason the site remains in its current state is because it was not released for cleanup until mid-August. While we released the site from our review many months ago, we are not the only party that has conducted an investigation.”
He said the property owner has been trying to hire someone to clean the site this week, but a timeline is not available and staff will be in contact with the property owner to make sure it happens soon.
“While we did ask earlier this year for the site to be cleaned up sooner, or for a better visual barrier to be placed around the site until cleanup could take place, there are restrictions on what the city legally can do with a property that is not ours and is involved in ongoing investigations/potential litigation,” Parks said. “However, we were informed recently by the insurance company representing the property owner that all evidence from the site had been secured and cleanup could commence.”
Fencing around the debris is toppling over in parts with one large gap and several areas where someone can slip in. Plastic coverings around the fencing are sparse and thinning. A sign for Naza Salon and Barber Shop — a business obliterated that fateful October morning — is still in the ground, as if frozen in time.
“It should’ve been cleaned up. It’s been, what, a year or so ago?” said Crystal Saucedo, general manager of the Wendy’s next to the site. “It’s long overdue.”
City resident Wayne Wenger said he walks his dog through nearby Purcell Park and said when it rains and then gets hot, the site stinks. He said the site should be cleared.
My dog “goes to the bathroom, I pick it up and put it in the trash. They should be doing the same thing. They have a mess and they should clean it up. If I crashed my car, I wouldn’t just leave it there,” Wenger said.
“I’m sorry it happened, but it’s not fair to the other businesses,” he said.
Wenger said he was concerned how the site could impact Blacks Run, which runs adjacent.
“That has to be a horrible mess leaching into the creek,” he said.
Matt Hassman, at Bluestone Bike and Run, said he filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency about the same issue.
Staff at Bluestone Bike and Run have seen rats crawling in, out and around the site eating rotten food, as well as a red-tailed hawk that hunts the pests, according to co-owner Erik Jensen.
“It just feels like [city staff and the property owners] haven’t done anything about it,” he said.
Jensen also had similar concerns about the impact to Blacks Run as Wenger and Hassman.
“I think it’s an eyesore and when it’s wet and windy, pieces are blown into our parking lot and yard,” he said.
Jensen said he was originally told the mess would be gone in two to three months and, even then, he thought that was a long time.
“There’s homeless people scrapping the metal out of the pile,” Jensen said. “They can’t really be [studying] it now. It’s been over a year.”
Joanne Wills, an owner of Funky’s Skate Center, and Rebecca Miller, an owner of the Domino’s on Miller Circle, said they have also seen people going in and out of the site who do not like look officials studying the blast.
“It’s just an eyesore, and it doesn’t really affect our business, we’ve kind of just accepted the fact it looks horrible,” Miller said. “It just looks like a trash site.”
She said her recent discussions with city staff have given her confidence something with soon actually be done to clean the debris, but it’s frustrating it has taken this long.
Roberto Rafael, assistant manager at El Charro across the road from the site, said he didn’t see much of an issue with the debris, since it doesn’t seem to be impacting business.
Though he agreed that it smelled.
Parks said city staff understands the site is an eyesore and appreciates the patience of the businesses.
“We hope it will be rectified shortly,” he said.