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Eliminating eyesores

September 23, 1998

Charles Town Mayor Randolph Hilton this week took aim at a number of dilapidated structures in town, saying that they "undermine the will of other people who want to take care of town." To turn that thought into action, however, the city needs a strategy.

The strategy should include strengthening the building code with provisions that would allow the city to declare the buildings abandoned if the owners don't respond within a reasonable time to orders to make them habitable again.

But the city also needs to consider whether it truly wants to raze every building that's now in bad shape. Some other cities have created a whole new class of homeowners by selling such buildings for a few dollars to citizens who pledge to make them livable with a certain time. Renters who might otherwise never own property might be able to trade some "sweat equity" for a place of their own.

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Such people would need help and encouragement, and maybe a few lessons in how to use tools properly. That help that might be provided through the chamber of commerce, or regional groups like Associated Builders and Contractors. Perhaps those groups could also work with new owners to obtain building materials at discounted prices. Of course, all such help should be contingent on the new owner living in the property and not converting it to rental use for at least five years.

But for those buildings that are truly beyond repair, the city needs to take a hard stand and push for their demolition at the earliest possible date. We believe the cost of those demolitions should be paid by for by the property owners, because it wasn't the general citizens or the government who allowed them to go downhill.

Mayor Hilton is correct when he says that a building that isn't maintained discourages other property owners in the city from keeping up their properties. We agree with him; it's time to send out the message that owning property in Charles Town includes a responsibility to maintain it as well.

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