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County discusses dilapidated buildings

February 21, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - An abandoned home partially destroyed by fire sparked a discussion by the Berkeley County Commission on what can be done about such unsafe nuisances.

Although Commissioner John Wright previously asked whether a nuisance ordinance could be built around the issue, county code already provides a framework for how to handle problematic structures, said County Engineer William "Bucky" Teach.

Commissioners discussed the issue at their meeting Thursday morning.

Sherry Cain, administrative assistant to the commission, said the green house on W.Va. 9 east was abandoned seven years ago, and partially burned on Christmas Eve 2001. Cain lives near the house, which is owned by Ann Smith, who has a Charles Town, W.Va., post office box address on file with the Berkeley County tax office, Teach said.

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Taxes on the property are up-to-date, Teach said.

Letters have been sent to the owner, Teach said, but always were returned. Commission President Howard Strauss suggested that the county's attorney, Norwood Bentley, send another strongly worded letter.

Smith could not be reached for comment.

If a property owner refuses to raze a structure, the county can do so and place a lien on the property. Charges can also be filed, with a fine of $50 to $500 per day for each day the building is not torn down or repaired, Teach said.

If the county tears down a building, it can remove any valuable or salvageable items or materials inside and resell them to recoup some expenses, Teach said.

Bentley told commissioners they could also sue property owners for demolition costs. If a property is deemed unsafe, Bentley said the county has an obligation to do something about it.

Cain thanked commissioners for discussing the abandoned home.

"I have battled rats. I have battled snakes," Cain said. When the house caught on fire, it nearly spread to her home, and on windy days, debris occasionally comes into her yard, she said.

County officials will continue addressing dilapidated homes on a case-by-case basis, Strauss said. Anyone with concerns about such a structure should submit pertinent information in writing to the commission's office.

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