WHEELING - The waning weeks of summer have brought about weeds and litter choking portions of Wheeling's landscape.
A ride across the city's six wards suggests every neighborhood has its share of scofflaws who fail to maintain their properties. From sidewalks impassable from overgrown weeds to abandoned lots and homes that foul the streetscape, Wheeling has its issues.
Warwood resident Pat Duffy, a member of the Wheeling Traffic Commission, said it's not hard to miss some of the real eyesores that continue to crop up, especially during the warm weather months. As a traffic commissioner, Duffy and other members tour various areas of the city prior to each traffic commission meeting. They visit sites involving requests for changes to the traffic rules - ranging from requests for handicapped parking spaces to no parking zones.
Photo by Heather Ziegler
Navigating this section of sidewalk is difficult because of weeds.
During these inspections, Duffy said it becomes obvious where some property owners - including a few businesses - are less than good neighbors.
In South Wheeling and Warwood in particular, numerous sidewalks are covered with weeds that have actually overtaken the right of way for pedestrians. In North Wheeling, it is impossible to walk along the sidewalk on W.Va. 2 in places where the weeds and brush have consumed entire sections of the walkways. Pedestrians must walk in the street to avoid the overgrown brush and trees.
Also in South Wheeling, sidewalks have almost disappeared, covered by grass and weeds. One overgrown lot and sidewalk area is near the city's South Wheeling swimming pool frequented by neighborhood children.
Duffy said it appears that most of the problem areas are properties abandoned by their owners or that are owned by people who live out of the area.
"That's no excuse. The city should go after these people," Duffy said. "It's not fair to the people who keep up their properties and have to live near this. It certainly doesn't make a good impression on someone new coming into the area to see the dirt and weeds."
Duffy pointed out that many properties have been purchased and converted into rental units by absentee landlords. He said some of the transients leave yards, porches and alleys strewn with garbage. Duffy suggested people need to be better informed about garbage pickup procedures and not leave trash bags outside for days on end.
According to the city code, property owners are mandated to maintain their properties including removal of snow and ice from sidewalks as well as weeds and grass.
When city officials receive a complaint about nuisance properties involving overgrown weeds or dilapidated buildings, Wheeling codes enforcement official Tom Wilson is called on to investigate the situation.
Wilson said the city's biggest issue with dilapidated properties and weed complaints is the inability to locate out-of-town property owners or their descendants.
"I take care of the complaints of dilapidated properties, weeds, things like that. I try to give the owners time to take care of it. If it's really bad, we call the operations department to send a crew to handle when we can't locate the owner," Wilson said.
He observed that the city has been aggressive in removing nuisance or dangerous properties over the past 10-15 years, but it takes time and money. As a result, "there are a lot of vacant lots and we have a limited number of people who can go out and cut those," Wilson added.
In some cases, the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is notified.
Health department officials said they send someone to look over the problem, establish ownership of the property and then send two letters to the property owner in an effort to correct the problem. The health department gives the property owner up to 30 days to respond to the complaint before legal action is taken through the court system.
The severity of the complaint determines how much time the property owner has to clean up the property, health department officials said.
Urgent cases, such as removal of a collapsed or burned-out structure, are often handled by the city when the property owner is not immediately located or able to remedy the emergency situation. The city then places a lien on the property in an effort to recoup demolition or removal costs.