Getting Help With Seedy Structures

Steubenville officials, like their counterparts in many local communities, have not been able to resolve the problem of crumbling buildings that, in addition to being eyesores, are health and safety hazards. Perhaps it is time for a new approach, even if that requires state legislation.

It is not because municipal officials ignore the problem that it remains a thorn in their sides. Discussion of dilapidated structures is a frequent feature of Steubenville City Council meetings. The issue came up again this week.

Members of the city Planning and Zoning Commission want council to approve an ordinance that would require owners of vacant buildings to communicate better with city government. They would be asked to report what they plan to do with their property.

Council members seem receptive to the idea. It certainly can’t hurt.

However, it also is unlikely the proposal will do much to address the dilemma. Unless the ordinance has teeth in it – fines for not complying – some owners of vacant buildings will simply ignore it.

Even when compliance is not a challenge, the proposed ordinance would merely require property owners to report to the city. Those intending to do nothing about structures that literally are falling apart could simply state that in writing.

At least such an ordinance would get some owners of vacant buildings on record. Determining who owns some problem structures can be a challenge.

As Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi told council members this week, some property owners “have simply walked away from the house or building.” In other cases, banks have foreclosed on dilapidated structures but have not recorded deeds in their name.

Since 2008, city officials have coped with 931 violations of property maintenance codes, Petrossi explained to council. He added that a major challenge is building owners who cannot afford to make repairs.

Steubenville, like many other communities, needs more flexibility in dealing with abandoned and/or dilapidated buildings. Some cities in West Virginia, including Wheeling, have obtained more power on the issue through “home rule” action by the Legislature. Perhaps officials in Steubenville and other East Ohio communities should check into obtaining similar help from Columbus.