30 problem structures razed in Parkersburg in 2016
PARKERSBURG — Eleven demolitions over the last three weeks bring to 17 the number of dilapidated houses torn down by the city of Parkersburg in 2016, a tally officials expect to more than double by spring.
“We will have by April another 21 houses (torn) down,” said Gary Moss, Parkersburg code director.
That’s been supplemented by 13 demolitions by the property owners themselves.
In an average year, the city of Parkersburg tears down less than 10 blighted structures and does not usually see this many voluntary demolitions, Moss said.
But an initiative proposed two years ago led the city to take out a pair of $250,000 low-interest loans from the West Virginia Housing Development Fund to expand the money available for demolitions. It also established a vacant property registry that assesses a $100-a-month fee on houses that are unoccupied and not being maintained in compliance with city code.
“We have had several people that have stepped up and torn their own houses down rather than pay $100 a month,” Moss said. “We’ve had several people start repairing houses.”
Seventy houses were selected by the code department and rated using a system approved by Parkersburg City Council in 2015.
Of those, 17 have been torn down by the city and 13 have been razed by the owners. Ten need asbestos inspections before demolition can begin, while letters starting the demolition process have been sent for 11 more.
“The owners have to have an opportunity to step up and either fix them up or tear them down,” Moss said. “Regardless of the condition with property, it’s still theirs and they have owners’ rights.”
In some cases, the city tears down the structure and places a lien on the property. If a parcel of land has redevelopment potential such as being along a major corridor or near other lots that can be combined into a larger property, the Parkersburg Urban Renewal Authority may vote to acquire the property via eminent domain.
Five of the initial 70 are waiting on action by the authority, composed of all nine members of council. The city has received notice on nine properties that the owners plan to repair them.
“We’re working with those folks through the BEA (Building Enforcement Agency), so we do periodic inspections and they come in and give reports on where they are with the property,” Moss said.
Four other homes have been repaired to the point that demolition is no longer needed. Two of those are occupied. A review of another house on the list determined it does not have enough violations to merit further action at this time.
“We’re already out now, trying to find the next batch,” Moss said.
That batch will consist of 50 houses, with a goal of keeping “10 to 15 in the barrel” to be ready for demolition, he said.
The interest on the loans is zero percent for the first two years and 3 percent for the third. City officials have long said they want to repay the money within the first two years. However, Finance Director Eric Jiles is working to renegotiate the terms of the deal because the city will not have drawn down all of the money from the first loan when the interest-free period ends in May.
With the number of demolitions rising, officials are starting to see changes in areas with a high number of dilapidated properties.
Moss pointed to the intersection of 16th Street and St. Marys Avenue, where six structures have been taken down within the last two years, some by the city and some by the owners.
“That corner has changed dramatically,” Moss said. “We had a concentration of questionable people over there. … The places that they were able to hang out and hide … are gone now.”
Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin said the demolition efforts benefit the city in a variety of ways, including his department.
“It does affect us, not having to respond to problem houses,” he said. “The owners give up on the property, and it just becomes an eyesore, a magnet for vandalism, mischievous teenage kids that go in there and tear it up.”
Sometimes those houses are the site of drug and alcohol abuse or other criminal activity, Martin said. Recently, an unidentified body was found in a vacant St. Marys Avenue house and it had obviously been there for a while, he said.
Mayor Jimmy Colombo said the process will take some time to work but progress is being made. He said some other cities are now trying to follow Parkersburg’s lead on the vacant property registry.
Mayor-elect Tom Joyce, who will take office in January, said he’s committed to continuing the battle against slum and blight and he believes the incoming council, which will have seven new members, is as well.
“I commend the administration and council for what they’ve done so far, but there’s more to do and we need to stay on the throttle,” he said.