At my first council meeting as Mayor in July 2015, I was asked the question; “What are you going to do about dilapidated buildings?”
Since then, I have been asked that same question more times than I can remember. The problem began with the flood of 1985 and has only grown worse since the flood of 1996.
During the last 58 months of meetings, vacant, abandoned and dilapidated properties have been on more agendas than any other topic. Councilmembers will share complaints they have received about trash in areas, people staying in vacant structures, or generators running all night. Pets are left unattended, straight pipes are supplying water, abandoned vehicles are present and the list goes on. The common factor with most of these complaints is a vacant, dilapidated or unsafe structure of some kind.
Rentals have their issues, but at least for a time they provide a level of need. Someone has a place to lie down and someone is receiving dollars.
VAD properties are only a nuisance that suck the value out of every city block where they are located.
We know what to do. Why can’t we do it?
Since August 2015, I have worked on critical components to address the problem. Meeting with Professor Jesse Richardson of the WVU Law Clinic was the beginning of the comprehensive plan. In April 2016, I attended my first BAD program. BAD is Brownfields, Abandoned and Dilapidated.
In August 2019, this present council adopted what may have been the 20th plan.
On pages 3-6 of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan, you will find a section identified as Housing/Dilapidated Buildings. There it states, “the town has identified a number of vacant and dilapidated structures. These structures are a safety hazard as they are prone to partial or complete collapse. Dilapidated structures lower property values and can stymie reinvestment in the community.”
The plan says the town of Marlinton is committed to addressing abandoned and dilapidated structures to improve the health, safety and welfare of the community.
But, are we?
On pages 3-7 of the comprehensive plan, concepts to address abandoned and dilapidated structures include utilizing a statutory lien to collect on costs for fire debris removal. Utilizing this statutory provision would allow the town of Marlinton to clean up a property that has been declared a total loss from a structure fire. If the property owner is unwilling to clean up the debris, the town can place a lien to hold a portion of the insurance money.
Vacant properties, even if not dilapidated, are likely to become dilapidated if no one cares for them. The town is enabled to enact an ordinance that will allow the town to assess a fee on any property that meets the statutory definition of “vacant property or structure.” This fee is usually an annual fee that increases each year on the registry. If a property owner does not want to pay the fee, they must work on the property to ensure it no longer meets the definition of being vacant.
You should ask your council representative, “Why won’t you enact such an ordinance?”
Pages 3-8, (in part), states: “While addressing abandoned and dilapidated housing, officials should, at the same time, try to understand and analyze the future housing needs of the community and plan accordingly.”
Citizens keep asking when something is going to be done.
Please don’t ask me anymore.
Ask your council.
At Monday night’s Town Council meeting, with my second council and second attorney, at what must be the fourth or fifth time, we stood at the threshold of adopting two ordinances that would allow the Town to do, what they say the Town should do and, again, more work and promise was rejected.
So, citizens of Marlinton, during this time of quarantine and Town Council meetings by teleconference, you should dial in, 1-605-472-5700, wait to enter access code 191106 followed by the # sign.
Listen from the comfort of your living room, witness for yourself why so many are reluctant to serve and worse yet, why it is that “nothing seems to get done.”
The last I heard, “Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity!”
But don’t ask me what I am going to do…ask your council what they are going to do!