Carrie Staton is director of the WVU BAD -- Brownfield, Abandoned, Dilapidated -- Buildings program that provides technical help to West Virginia communities.
by Kathy Plum, staff writer, The Preston County News & Journal
Kingwood, W.Va. -- Preston County towns are finding that forcing property owners to fix or remove dilapidated buildings takes long-term commitment and cash in hand.
"Every community that I talk to is facing an issue with dilapidated buildings, from the small towns of just a few hundred people up to our largest cities," Carrie Staton said. "The WVU Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic estimates that as many as one in six properties in West Virginia are vacant and abandoned. Our estimates indicate that there are approximately 15,000 residential and 5,500 commercial structures in a severe state of dilapidation and in need of demolition."
Staton is director of West Virginia University BAD -- Brownfield, Abandoned, Dilapidated -- Buildings in the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, which provides technical help to abandoned and dilapidated buildings programs in West Virginia communities.
Dilapidated buildings contribute to blight, which BAD identifies as "the process through which a previously functioning city, or part of a city, falls into disrepair. It negatively impacts communities by increasing infrastructure costs, posing safety and environmental hazards, demoralizing communities, and slowing economic development."
The process of getting a dilapidated building fixed or torn down is lengthy. Staton recommends starting with a friendly letter from a community member asking the owner to handle it and mentioning the available resources.
"Any time you can work directly with a property owner to have them address their own property is ideal, because it's going to save the municipality money, and it's ultimately a more sustainable solution," Staton said.
Another BAD Building suggestion is to create a vacant building registry. Fees are charged when buildings go on the list. Kingwood is doing this, but not all property owners follow the rules.
The best way to tackle dilapidated buildings is to adopt and enforce the state Building Code and/or the International Property Maintenance Code, Staton said. These require towns to have a code official or inspector, certified by the West Virginia Fire Commission. Kingwood is working with Morgantown code enforcement and has an agreement to use Morgantown's appeals board and enforcement officer if needed.
WVU BAD Buildings is part of the West Virginia Water Research Institute that is a program of the WVU Energy Institute.