City weighs in on distressed properties

As representatives of the citizens of Elkins, we were once again upset and disheartened earlier this week in reading the coverage of the Town Hall meeting by the Inter-Mountain newspaper, for two reasons. First, is that we don’t wish there to be a disconnect or lack of communication between any citizen and their representatives; and second, that the information presented and statements reported from these Town Hall meetings is being presented absent any effort to reach out to City Officials for confirmation or contradiction. We therefore feel obligated, for the good of all our citizens who rely on the Inter-Mountain for their news, to tell you the rest of the story…

Since the adoption of the Vacant Structure Ordinance (#131) in late 2011, there have been one-hundred and fourteen structures on the Vacant Structure list, ninety of which have been removed to date for the variety of reasons that follow. Thirty-four were demolished, only two of which were executed or contracted by the City. In both of these instances liens were placed against the property owners to try and recover taxpayer money spent, and in fact, just last week money was remitted to the City as a result. The other fifty-six structures were removed due to active building permits; current occupation; or use in a different class of occupancy. This leaves twenty-four vacant structures currently on the City’s approved list. An important fact to note is that there are strict standards contained within the adopted City Code that have to be met in order for a structure to be considered vacant and eligible to be placed on the list. Compared to the West Virginia average of one in sixteen (based on a report published by the WVU College of Law Land Use and Sustainable Development Clinic), the City of Elkins having only twenty-four vacant structures out of approximately three-thousand three hundred, is nearly ten times better than the average.

Beyond being vacant, structures do sometimes reach a point of distress and dilapidation. The City of Elkins is lucky in that we have the tools and qualified personnel that can legally make the determination that a structure is uninhabitable and in some cases in need of demolition. Our City’s Building Inspector and Fire Chief, using the West Virginia State Building Code, work to identify structures that violate the minimum standards required to safeguard life and property. In the City of Elkins, we currently have identified ten such structures. Of these ten, six are fire damaged, three having been determined total losses. The City Council Public Safety and Finance Committees have worked together these last few weeks to assign $50,000 of General Fund revenues towards the demolition of these three properties. Working with the City Attorney to secure the necessary authority, the City intends to take action soon. In addition, the City has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Woodlands Development Group (WDG) to share resources in our mutual efforts to turn dilapidated properties into renewed housing opportunities. The MOU identifies each party’s contribution and active efforts are underway to tackle some of the ten properties noted above through the use of this agreement, including WDG’s application for funding to the WV Housing Fund and the City’s commitment to purchase a demolition trailer.

We remain steadfast in the belief that our successes are a combination of the hard work by council, administrative officers, city staff, community organizations and citizens who are committed to working together for a solution. Vacant and dilapidated structures have been a frequent and ongoing agenda item for council committees and full council meetings, all of which are open for public attendance and comment.

A schedule of meetings is available on our website, as well as contact information for all elected officials, city administrators and city personnel.

Mayor Van Broughton City Council members

Robert Chenoweth

Robert Woolwine

Charles Friddle III

Gene Ochsendorf

Carman Metheny

Christopher Lowther

Marly Hazen

Marilynn Cuonzo

David Parker