Charles Town eyes vacant and uninhabitable properties

July 07, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • This house was ordered to be razed by the city of Charles Town in March. The Charles Town City Council recently passed a tougher set of rules that can force owners of vacant and uninhabitable properties to repair them or tear them down.
Submitted photo

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — A long-standing problem of allowing vacant and uninhabitable properties to stay vacant has moved to the front burner now that the Charles Town City Council has passed a tougher set of rules that can force owners to repair the properties or tear them down.

City Manager Joe Cosentini said inspections have identified 23 homes needing serious repairs or demolition. The criteria used to identify the buildings’ status are excessive code violations, if they are vacant, uninhabitable or in such disrepair that they cannot be sold.

“The problem is pretty much scattered in all four wards, but mostly in wards one and three,” Cosentini said. “We’ve been dealing with this problem on and off since 2000.”

In 2010, the council rewrote the ordinances governing vacant and dilapidated properties and appointed a commission to enforce them.

Commission members include Mayor Peggy Smith; Councilman Rich Bringewatt; Scott Coyle, the city’s code enforcement officer; and one representative each from the Jefferson County Health Department and the Independent and Citizens fire companies, Cosentini said.

Bringewatt, who recently was re-elected to a second four-year council term, led the council’s effort to beef up its clampdown on vacant and uninhabitable properties.

“We’re serious about this,” he said last week in an interview. “This has been going on too long. It’s a priority with the council.

“Vacant and uninhabitable properties are not only a nuisance, they are eyesores, they diminish property values in their neighborhoods, and they create health and safety issues. They drain the economic values from the community, and affect economic development, tourism and community pride.”

The city tries to work with property owners to get them to fix up their houses, Cosentini said. If there are structural defects or a house cannot be lived in as is, it has to be repaired to code or be demolished, he said.

Forcing a property owner to demolish a property or have the city do it requires condemnation proceedings in circuit court.

“Owners have an opportunity to make their case before the judge,” Cosentini said.

Since 2000, the city has pushed hard against one owner who ended up demolishing his property, Cosentini said.

The city currently has a case against another owner pending in court.

The ordinance allows the city to put liens on properties it razes to recoup its costs.

Owners of vacant properties are subject to a $100 annual fee and inspection to ensure that the house is safe and kept up to city standards, according to city rules.

“Demolition is not the mayor’s goal,” Cosentini said. “We want people to understand that they need to clean up and maintain their properties.”

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