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Council backs vacant building law

July 03, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - A long-standing issue of how to deal with vacant buildings in Charles Town got some attention Monday night when city officials gave preliminary approval to a proposed law that would require owners of the buildings to pay $100 a year and possibly up to $500 annually until the buildings are made habitable.

City officials have said there are as many as 20 vacant homes and buildings in town, and some have been in that condition for 35 years.

The Charles Town City Council gave preliminary approval Monday night to a proposed new law that would require owners of buildings vacant for six months or more to place the buildings on a list until the buildings are made habitable again.

If a property owner voluntarily places a building on the list, the owner will pay $100 as an incentive to make improvements to the property, said Mayor Peggy Smith.

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If the city is forced to place the building on the list, the owner will have to pay a $250 fee, Smith said.

After the first year, the property owners will have to pay the city $500 a year for every year the home is vacant, Smith said.

The $500 fee will be required regardless of whether the property owner voluntarily put the building on the city list or whether the city put the building on the list, Smith said.

Smith said Monday night she feels some parts of the proposed law need clarification.

For example, Smith said some homes in the city might be rentals and could sit empty for six months or more. Smith said she wanted to make sure those buildings would not be considered vacant under the proposed law.

"It's critical that we get it right," Smith said.

Council member Don Clendening also said it would not be fair to apply the proposed law to a homeowner who might be forced to live away from a home due to an extended illness.

Council members agreed to pass a first reading of the proposed law and work to address some of the issues that were discussed.

Passage of the law requires a second reading.

Jim Tolbert, a local resident who has been critical about vacant buildings in Charles Town, said before Monday's meeting that he had not reviewed the proposed new law.

Tolbert, who is also president of the state NAACP, did say the city needs to find a way to deal with the problem.

He reiterated previous concerns including that some of the buildings no longer have utilities hooked to them and are starting to affect the values of houses near them.

"Some of these properties, there might be two or three in a neighborhood," Tolbert said.




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The issue: Some people have been critical of a problem regarding vacant homes and buildings in Charles Town, saying some have not been used for 35 years and are starting to affect the value of nearby homes.

What is being done: The Charles Town City Council gave preliminary approval Monday night to a proposed new law that would require owners of buildings that are vacant for six months or more to put the properties on a list and pay a $100 annual fee until they are improved to meet city standards. The fee will be $250 a year if the city is forced to place the property on the list.

What's next: City officials are clarifying issues in the proposed new law and will be preparing it to be brought back to city council for final approval.

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