It looks like Mayor Steve Williams’ goal of demolishing 100 vacant and dilapidated buildings this year will be met.
Speaking to Huntington City Council members Tuesday, Director of Development and Planning Scott Lemley said he is confident the city will reach its goal. Doing so would leave the city with fewer than 100 identified unsafe and dilapidated structures on the unsafe building list, he said. That’s good progress from a few years ago, when 400 dilapidated and unsafe structures were on the list for demolition.
Lemley provided to council members a booklet updating them on the status of Project B.A.N.E., which stands of Blight and Nuisance Elimination. The booklet contained the location of demolished structures and the cost of those associated demolitions.
Last week, AT&T announced a $24,000 donation to go toward tearing down three abandoned houses in the city and a $20,000 donation toward a mental health wellness center for the city’s first responders.
Structures already demolished by the city include commercial properties, burned-out homes and dilapidated garages or outbuildings. Lemley said about two unsafe structures are added to the unsafe building list each month. Approximately $140,000 to $150,000 remains in the demolition account, he said.
“We greatly appreciate every dollar,” he said. “Anyone who wants to donate, we will work with them and get even more of these structures down.”
Each year, Lemley and Christal Perry, demolition specialist, drive through the city looking to see if any structures should be added to the unsafe properties list. People may also call in to complain about potentially unsafe homes.
Once a house is determined to be unsafe, they work to notify the homeowner, which can take several months in some cases. Homeowners have to go before the Unsafe Building Commission, which looks at the property and determines if it needs to be demolished. Once approved, the commission will determine the level of urgency of the demolition.
It’s a slow process but a necessary one, as we’re talking about the city coming onto private property and demolishing a privately owned structure.
It goes without saying that decay begets more decay. These structures are magnets for crime and fires that can damage nearby properties.
As has been said before, tearing down unsafe structures is the easy part, despite the red tape. The hard part is finding new uses that will enhance the neighborhoods where these properties are. It could be building new homes or businesses or even a small park. Perhaps the best use is leaving the properties vacant until a buyer can put them to productive use.
Few people will invest their housing or business money in a neighborhood full of vacant and dilapidated structures. Each house that’s torn down gives people another reason to consider buying or building a home in Huntington. Each unsafe structure gives them a reason to look elsewhere.
It’s good to see the people in City Hall are taking the necessary steps to removing blight that only harms West Virginia’s second-largest city and the economic anchor of the Tri-State.