By C.V. Moore
Hundreds of houses are coming down in Fayette County. On Friday, the county commission heard updates on the progress of two programs designed to rid the county of blight and flood-prone residential areas.
First, they heard the latest on the slow, ongoing struggle to bring down some of the county’s dilapidated buildings through a $200,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and a $400,000 loan from the West Virginia Housing Development Fund.
The Fayette County Dilapidated Buildings Project identifies blighted structures and notifies their owners that they are in violation of code. In the past two years, 63 owners have voluntarily taken down the buildings after receiving such notice. The county has stepped in to take down four, after a lengthy legal process.
Fayette County Commission President Matthew Wender continued to push for a faster, more efficient process.
“Something’s got to get better,” he said. “There are a lot of unhappy folks who are not satisfied with the pace of buildings coming down.”
Prosecuting Attorney Carl Harris outlined the multi-step legal process that’s triggered by serving notice on a property owner. He says his office is going to be offering more assistance to the program’s coordinator, Angela Gerald, in the future.
“I think we’ve got the wheels greased and I think you’re going to see a noticeable difference in getting these things cranked out,” he said.
Two specific properties were also discussed.
One, which has been taken down but not hauled away, is on Gatewood Road and owned by Buren Renick. The commission is asking Renick to come in to provide an update and timeline on expected progress for clearing the debris.
The other property is the old pool hall in Winona, which has collapsed. The difficulty with this property is that the ownership has changed three times since September of last year, so serving papers is problematic.
The county is attempting to solve the problem by filing an official legal complaint stating that the owners need to get on the commission agenda to plead their case. So even if the property changes again, the complaint will be on record.
The commission also ordered the demolition of a property at 432 Hilltop Loop Road.
Another program in the county is bringing down houses at a rapid rate. The Dunloup Creek Voluntary Floodplain Buyout is about halfway through its goal of 198 tear-downs using federal grant money.
Theresa White, who is overseeing the program for the county, gave a detailed breakdown on the accomplishments so far.
Title and deed work is complete for 165 properties; 92 homes have been purchased; and 71 demolished.
The program is on track to finish with money left over, hopefully by September 2014, according to Pam Yost.
Wender is asking Mountain Transit Authority to explore the possibility of non-emergency medical transport for Fayette County, a service that’s provided to Nicholas County residents by the authority.
“I’d like to know how it is that Nicholas managed to put this together and Fayette County hasn’t, and what we have to do to gain equal footing and access to federal and state subsidies,” said Wender.
He also wants to discuss a possible loop for the Valley district from Montgomery up through Gauley Bridge and back, as well as service in Ansted.
The Town of Fayetteville is proposing to enter into an agreement with the county, similar to that of the City of Oak Hill, that would have the town adopt the county’s building code and share a building inspector with the county.
Allen Ballard, the county’s building inspector, says that the arrangement is working out well with Oak Hill. He also has the huge job of inspecting structures being built at the Summit Bechtel Reserve.
“I know Allen does a lot of work and we don’t want to overburden him, but I don’t think we’re going to have within the town a tremendous amount of strain on the county,” said Fayetteville’s attorney, Larry Harrah.
“It gets to uniformity and a spirit of cooperation,” said Bill Lanham, town manager of Fayetteville. “We think it would be an economic driver and be a positive where people wanting to come and locate business and residential are dealing with the same practices.”
The town is also looking into adopting Oak Hill’s new beautification ordinance to bring down blighted structures.
Danny Chiotos, representing the Sierra Club, spoke to the commission about its signing on to a letter to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that asks them to expand an energy efficiency program in the state.
Appalachian Power is asking the PSC to acquire shares of two aging coal-fired power plants. But critics say the company has failed to adequately evaluate possible alternatives to meeting electricity demand.
“We want to see more investment in energy efficiency in West Virginia,” said Chiotos. “West Virginia is 49th in the country in energy efficiency programs. There’s tons of low-hanging fruit for lowering bills and creating jobs.”
Chiotos was invited to pass along more information about programs in surrounding states and cost breakdowns, and come back to a future meeting.
The commission welcomed a handful of new employees to county government on Friday. They include a director and case manager for the Day Report Center; an administrator at the County Clerk’s office; a new fire coordinator for the county; and a new office worker for the Sheriff’s tax department.
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