Following the November 10 fire in Marlinton, town officials launched a redevelopment effort, focused on rebuilding the Main Street area destroyed by the fire. But – just a block off of Main Street – is a mostly vacant lot, containing just a ramshackle tin storage building. The 120-foot-square lot sits in a prime downtown location, adjacent to the Pocahontas County Opera House. Yet it lies vacant, strewn with litter and overgrown with weeds.
The lot is owned by the Marlinton Building Commission. Marlinton council formed the commission in November 2003, “to direct and oversee the creation of a community center in Marlinton.” Initial appointees were Jane Price Sharp, Leslie Cain, Ernie Shaw, Sam Brill and Glen Wade. In the resolution forming the commission, council specified the lot which the commission was to acquire. So council, not the building commission, chose the site.
The original appointees had terms ranging from one to five years. Loretta Malcomb replaced Cain in 2004 – the last known appointment to the building commission. Glen Wade’s five-year term expired in November 2008, leaving the building commission with no members.
The building commission accomplished its mission to obtain property for a community center. The group obtained funds and purchased the downtown lot from Sharon Hudson for $151,500. It obtained grant money and donations to clear a dilapidated gas station and underground fuel tanks from the site. The Pocahontas County Commission donated $15,000; Pocahontas County Senior Citizens, $5,000; Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation, $1,000 and the Rotary Club, $1,000.
But Parks and Recreation became the lead agency for the “community wellness center,” and chose a different site, next to Marlinton Elementary School, enabling a partnership with the Pocahontas County Board of Education for the long-term upkeep of the facility. With $2.9 million in federal funds and community donations, Parks and Recreation completed the center last summer. Although the building commission undoubtedly improved the downtown area with its clean-up efforts, the lot it obtained remains in government hands, unused and untaxed.
Under state law, a building commission remains in perpetual existence, even without members. If town council wanted to take action on the property, it would have to appoint new members to the building commission – a move which might be in the works.
When informed that the building commission owns the lot, Marlinton Mayor Joe Smith said he would consult with council about what to do with the property. Malcomb recalled that the building commission voted to give the lot to the Opera House Foundation, for construction of an annex, but the transfer was never made.
Smith said a good use of the lot would be a parking lot for the Opera House, which has no on-premises parking. Council is expected to discuss the issue during its next regular meeting on February 3.