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Mayor, residents discuss ways to deal with 'eyesores'

September 22, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Charles Town Mayor Randolph Hilton turned his focus Monday night toward dilapidated and abandoned buildings in town, saying the deteriorating structures "undermine the will of other people who want to take care of town."

Hilton said the buildings are eyesores, can create health hazards and bring down property values.

During a town meeting at the Jefferson County Courthouse, Hilton led a public discussion on how to deal with the problem.

Possible solutions ranged from condemning buildings to giving tax breaks to owners who want to fix up their properties.

Ellen May, who has been involved in revitalization efforts downtown and has worked as a merchant, said the city needs to find ways to condemn dilapidated buildings and take ownership of them. Then the buildings can be sold at public auction, she said.

May said taking over the buildings is better than the property owners "thumbing their nose at all the zoning ordinances you have."

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John McElroy, who used to be on the city's Zoning Appeals Board, said city officials may be able to take action on the buildings if there are other problems other than aesthetics, such as rat infestations, which could trigger health department action, or presence of lead paint.

Another possibility is requiring landlords to have licenses, said McElroy. If there are any violations of city codes, the licenses can then be revoked, he said.

George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the city started tearing down deteriorating buildings some time ago, but the effort stopped.

Razing buildings has not always been a smooth process in town. The city's attempt at tearing down a building in a drug-plagued area of South West Street five years ago was met with controversy. The owner of the building denied claims that loiterers were entering the structure, and appealed the city's plan.

Hilton said dilapidated buildings are everywhere, including on Washington Street, the main thoroughfare.

"I don't want to pinpoint buildings, but you can see them all over town," he said.

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