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Red X marks the spot

February 08, 2002

Red X marks the spot



By SARAH MULLIN / Staff Writer


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Code Enforcement Committee of Martinsburg, W.Va., will use a new "psychological tool" in an effort to shape up delinquent property owners and investors.

The Red X sign - placed in the ground near the front facade of a targeted building - will be used to embarrass property owners in an effort to make them bring their property up to code, said Glenville Twigg, chairman of the committee.

The sign is the size of an average real estate sign and has a yellow background. In the upper right hand corner is a red area with a yellow X clearly visible, said Mike Covell, city engineer/planner for Martinsburg and a member of the committee.

In bold black letters is the sentence, "The owner of the building has failed to be a responsible property owner and failed to care about the neighborhood." In the lower left-hand corner, the property owner's name and address is written in red letters, Covell said.

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The sign's design was modeled after a similar sign used in Wheeling, W.Va., Covell said.

The first sign has been placed in front of a building with flaking paint and rotten wood on North Queen Street. The owner lives out of state, he said.

The committee's biggest problem deals with out-of-state property owners because they are hard to handle, Twigg said.

Covell said it is more costly due to legal battles to deal with out-of-state owners because it takes longer to get results from them.

Twigg said about 35 percent to 40 percent of the property owners and investors in Martinsburg buy property at a good price, then do nothing to fix or maintain the property.

"They milk it," he said.

Twigg asked the city council to support the idea of a code enforcement committee three years ago.

There are now nine members consisting of three council members, Twigg, Covell, and city firefighters and building inspectors.

"I asked the council to form a committee because we were considered a paper tiger. We would threaten but never prosecute," Twigg said.

Since the committee began it has sent about 1,000 cases to court. "We have come a long way, but we are 20 years behind so we have a long way to go," he said.

The Red X sign is the last strategy to be implemented from the original plan designed by the committee three years ago, Twigg said.

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