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Public meeting considered to address vacant buildings in Charles Town

May 09, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - City officials say there are as many as 20 of them scattered around town.

They are vacant buildings and houses, and some of them have been that way for 35 years, officials say.

In some cases, utilities no longer are connected to the buildings, and Charles Town resident Jim Tolbert said they are starting to affect the value of houses nearby.

"They're just taking up space. I think something clearly has to be done," said Tolbert, president of the state chapter of the NAACP.

Vacant buildings in town, primarily in black neighborhoods, have been an issue for years, and they surfaced again at a city candidates forum last Tuesday when Tolbert criticized one city proposal for dealing with the buildings.

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The Charles Town City Council has been considering a law that would control vacant buildings, but it was tabled during a council meeting Monday night, Mayor Peggy Smith said.

Smith said a city housing opportunity board wants to hold a public meeting to get input about how to address the issue.

Smith said the city could obtain federal funding that could go to owners of vacant buildings to pay for improvements to the structures.

When asked why property owners would not be required to use their own money to improve the properties, Smith said she is going by the old adage that you "always get more with honey."

Smith said she is interested in improving the buildings and converting them to affordable housing.

The housing opportunity board is considering holding the public meeting on vacant buildings May 22 at Independent Fire Co. in Ranson, W.Va., Smith said.

City Council member Matt Ward said some vacant buildings in town meet code requirements, but have plywood nailed over windows.

They might meet code requirements, but not "good community standards," Ward said.

Under the proposed vacant buildings law, the owner of any building that is vacant six months or longer must register the property with the city, which costs $250, Ward said.

If the owner does not register the property, city officials will list it, Ward said.

Having the building on the list will give the owner an incentive to take action, such as selling the building or leasing it, Smith said.

Among other penalties under the proposed law, the property owner will have to pay $500 for each additional year a building is on the list, Ward said.

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