City tears down fire-damaged house

The Inter-Mountain photo The house at 108 Orchard Street was demolished by the city of Elkins recently. The dilapidated property had caught fire twice in recent years. The city, which now owns the property, paid to have it demolished last week.

ELKINS — The city of Elkins has torn down the dilapidated property on Orchard Street that prompted an elderly resident to criticize city officials earlier this year.

The house, at 108 Orchard Street, had caught fire twice in recent years. The city, which now owns the property, paid to have it demolished last week.

“The Orchard Street property, the city got the title to it probably about a month ago,” City Attorney Gerri Roberts told The Inter-Mountain. “It had about $4,500 in asbestos abatement, more than $9,000 in the actual demolition, and they started (demolition) and then the rain came over the weekend and they had to wait to finish it.”

The property will now go up for auction, Roberts said.

“What the city will have to do is put it up for a public auction … I have suggested that they get an appraisal, and then we’ll have to do a legal advertisement, and then have a sale,” she said.

The delay in getting the house torn down — which raised the ire of neighbor George Martin Kniley — was created by difficulties Phil Isner, Elkins’ code enforcement officer/building inspector, had in dealing with Popcorn Properties LLC and its owner, attorney Rock Wilson, Roberts said.

“(Wilson) bought it at a tax sale, and in April 2018 he got a deed to the property. In July 2018 there was a fire. After the fire, Mr. Isner contacted Popcorn Properties, who was the record owner. He continued to promise to Mr. Isner he was going to come, they were going to check it out, and it just went on for some period of time,” she said.

“In December, we hadn’t heard from him for a month or so. Mr. Isner wrote to him. He sent us the first page of the deed — he’d deeded it back to the people who had the property when it went up for delinquent taxes. So those are the people we got to deed it to the city. They didn’t even know he had deeded it back. Pretty awful. So we spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with him, but now it’s been deeded to the city.

“Once he knew there was a fire, he just washed his hands of it. He owns three other properties in the city in a similar state. It’s a real problem,” Roberts said.

Wilson has law offices in Pennsboro and Parkersburg.

Kniley, a Vietnam veteran in his 70s, spoke during the public comment section of the Feb. 21 Elkins City Council meeting, saying he had come to “shame” city officials because the house had not been taken down, and adding he had “nothing but contempt” for them.

Also last week, a dilapidated structure on High Street was demolished.

Mayor Van Broughton mentioned the demolition during the most recent city council meeting, saying, “Mr. Isner has worked with the owner for quite a few months … The house is privately owned and they did take it down on their own.”

“The High Street owners just had to have a demolition permit for that,” Roberts told The Inter-Mountain. “This was a property that was in disrepair. It was sold at a tax sale and the person bought it privately. The city cited the previous owner. Phil Isner helped the new owner find the person to do the demolition.”

Roberts added that the city is “very close” to demolishing two more dilapidated properties.

“I’m waiting for the deed to come back on one, the people have decided to deed it to the city, and that one the city can take down by itself, because it’s small enough and because of the location,” she said.

“I have another one where the owners have agreed to deed the property to the city, and it is also, according to Mr. Isner, one he believes the city can demo. It’s going to have to be tested for asbestos first. That will have to be done by a licensed company.”