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City of Elkins tears down fire-damaged structure

Submitted photos A fire-damaged house located at 506 South Randolph Ave. in Elkins has been torn down by the city after the demolition was authorized by a Randolph County Circuit Court order. The city has placed a lien on the property hoping to recoup the approximately $40,000 in demolition costs if the property is sold.

ELKINS — The City of Elkins is continuing its efforts to respond to citizens calling for demolition of dilapidated properties within city limits, and recently tore down a fire-damaged structure on South Randolph Avenue.

The demolition of the property at 506 South Randolph Ave. was authorized by a Randolph County Circuit Court order.

The city does not own the property and could not auction it, but the city has placed a lien against it seeking to recoup the approximately $40,000 in demolition costs if the property is sold.

The property is “one of several tracts of real estate located in Elkins that are part of the estate of Roger G. Fussell, who operated rental properties throughout the area until his death, in 2009,” a city of Elkins press release states. “Because Fussell’s will remains contested, this property and his other real estate holdings cannot be distributed to his heirs and so remain the property of his estate, for which his daughter, Andrea Simmons, is the executrix.

“Already vacant when it was severely damaged by fire in 2014, the house at 506 South Randolph Avenue was never repaired by its owner and its condition continued to worsen,” according to the release. “City of Elkins monitored the property and repeatedly requested that the Fussell estate address the problems associated with the increasingly dilapidated and dangerous structure. After issuing multiple citations, city code enforcement condemned the structure, then sought court approval for demolition, which was granted late last year.”

A fire-damaged house located at 506 South Randolph Ave. in Elkins has been torn down by the city after the demolition was authorized by a Randolph County Circuit Court order. The city has placed a lien on the property hoping to recoup the approximately $40,000 in demolition costs if the property is sold.

“Because of due process and other legal requirements for dealing with these kinds of properties, getting to the point where we can demolish can take years under the best of circumstances,” Elkins City Attorney Geraldine Roberts said. “For a property owned by an estate that is still open because of various legal issues, the situation is even more complicated and takes even longer to resolve.”

City officials said asbestos abatement also delayed the demolition of the property.

“Testing for and safely removing a large amount of asbestos slowed us down on this one, but everything came together to get it taken care of this week,” City Operations Manager Bob Pingle said. “That house has been a longtime eyesore in a highly traveled area, so it’s nice to know it’s finally gone.”

“Even if the city demolishes a dangerous structure as an immediate safety hazard, we don’t automatically obtain title and might never recoup our costs,” Roberts said.

“As a standard practice, we’ve placed a lien against this property, but that lien will not necessarily be paid at the time of any sale. For one thing, there may be other liens ahead of ours and frankly it is unlikely the property would sell for enough to cover our lien anyway.

“We’ll seek every possible remedy that we can in this case, but unfortunately, a lot of the time cities and counties simply have to accept these costs as part of their responsibility to protect people from dangerous structures and help maintain the value of the surrounding properties.”

The City of Elkins has been stepping up efforts to deal with dilapidated properties. On Nov. 13, the city offered three residential properties for sale by auction, as-is, in the lobby of Elkins City Hall. The properties were located on Orchard Street, Cherokee Street and Adams Street.

In May 2019, the city tore down a dilapidated house on the Orchard Street property that prompted an elderly resident to criticize city officials earlier in the year. The house, at 108 Orchard Street, had caught fire twice in recent years. The city purchased the property and paid to have it demolished.

In July 2018, a letter bearing 325 signatures was presented to Elkins city officials calling for action on the dilapidated properties issue. The letter effort arose from the Town Hall series of meetings over several years which focused on distressed properties.

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