Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 14, 2013

Demolition process continues in Bluefield

GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — If the weather is favorable, more burned out and dilapidated structures along the streets of Bluefield will be demolished next week.

“We have six that have been prioritized,” said City Manager Jim Ferguson.

Located at the intersection of Highland Avenue and Pine Street, further up Highland Avenue and on Third Street, the structures are either condemned or were destroyed by fire, Ferguson said. The homes are close together, so city crews will work to tear all of them down.

“These are high priority,” he said.

Efforts to remove dilapidated structures from local neighborhoods continued this week as the city of Bluefield announced another list of buildings that could face demolition.

Before homes and other structures are condemned, the city publishes a legal advertisement to notify owners and whoever else may have an interest in the property, said City Building Inspector Gerald Steele. The notification is required by state law; owners who see the notice can appear before the city building commission to contest it.

“It’s generally houses that are derelict or abandoned,” Steele said. “Frequently the owners have passed away, and had no heirs or no interest in the property. When it gets into a condition beyond reasonable repair, that’s when our process steps in to remove a blighted property from the neighborhood.”

The city now has 28 to 29 structures that are scheduled for demolition, Steele said. Those houses and buildings have been through the legal process, checked for asbestos, and are “ready for the blade.”

City Manager Jim Ferguson said approximately 500 structures have been placed under a condemnation order since 2004.

“Of those, approximately 400 have been demolished,” he said. “So about 80 percent of the blighted properties in Bluefield have been removed.”

The city plans to demolish another 100 structures by the end of 2014.

“The goal is 50 more this year and 50 more next year,” Ferguson said. More houses could be added to the list later.

In Princeton, the city has just finished its 460th demolition, said Code Enforcement Director Bill Buzzo Jr.

“We did a couple more recently in the past couple of weeks,” Buzzo said. “That’s not bad for a small city.”

Princeton has 30 dilapidated structure cases pending, he said. Like Bluefield, Princeton tries to locate the property owners and get them to pay for the work.

“I think the last couple that were torn down were paid for by the property owner, which is a good thing,” Buzzo said.

Princeton’s workers have also removed approximately 1,550 junk vehicles.

“Which is about four and a quarter miles if you put those cars end to end,” Buzzo added.

The city spent $50,000 more last year than what was budgeted for demolitions, Buzzo said. At a recent budget retreated, city officials discussed whether to increase the budget for demolitions.

To finance the demolitions, the city of Bluefield also tries to locate the properties’ owners. In some cases, property owners come to the city and ask for help in tearing down a dilapidated structure, he said. In one case, a church approached the city about tearing down a neighboring structure.

“Sometimes it’s more economical to get us to do it than to hire somebody else,” he said.

Demolishing a building cost the city approximately $4,000, Ferguson said. The exact cost of each project is determined by the building’s size, whether asbestos needs to be removed, and other factors.

At the formal hearing scheduled for 11 a.m., Feb. 26 at the Bluefield Municipal Building, Steele said the building commission will take his sworn testimony about the condition of the properties in question, whether they are detrimental to their neighborhoods, and whether it is economically feasible to repair them.

“Some get to the point where they are dangerous to anyone around them,” he said. “At that point, there’s no choice.”

Not all condemned structures are torn down immediately. City workers take care of the demolitions, but they have other daily duties they must perform before they can find time for tearing down structures.

“It’s worth noting that typically the same crews that we use for demolition are the same employees who drive snow plows, and sometimes that slows us down in the process,” Steele said. “Sometimes there are opportunities available to do demolitions.”

The properties listed for the Feb. 26 hearing include: 824 Melrose Street; 313 Rogers Street; 501 Tyler Street; 300 Logan Street; 321 Logan Street; and 111 Bath Street.