A quick search of the Ohio County Assessor's Office website reveals the city of Wheeling owns at least 290 properties within city limits, and a newly formed group hopes to get at least some of those parcels back into private hands - even if it means selling them for just $1.
During his February State of the City address, Mayor Andy McKenzie announced the formation of a committee of residents tasked with researching historic buildings for the purpose of preservation. Among its members are Wheeling Historic Landmarks Commission members Jeremy Morris, C.J. Kaiser and Patrick Cassidy, and the commission heard an update on the new committee's activities Thursday.
Kaiser said in its research, the committee found a number of vacant, city-owned properties in historic areas and devised a plan they eventually hope to bring before City Council that could save some of those properties from further decay.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Wheeling Historic Landmarks Commissioners Rebecca Swords and Victor Greco listen to comments during the commission’s Thursday meeting.
Under the proposal, interested parties could purchase certain properties for $1 from the city's development arm, the Ohio Valley Area Development Corp. Such a sale would be contingent on the buyer signing a contract agreeing to secure the property from further deterioration within six months, and present a detailed plan for renovation within a year.
In return, the buyer could receive a five-year waiver from Wheeling's vacant building registration fee. But if renovations aren't completed within a designated time frame, possibly five years, the owner would forfeit the property back to the city.
Taking such action would prevent the city from collecting on any liens it has against the properties, but Kaiser said the benefits could far outweigh that loss.
"The idea is, let's see what we can do to get this property back into the hands of people who will restore it, make it better and be taxpayers," he said.
Morris added that property often lies stagnant and is allowed to deteriorate simply because neither the city nor potential buyers are willing or able to invest the time or money to determine if a property can reasonably be restored to usefulness. The mayor's committee, he said, can help close that gap by gathering information to provide at least a rough estimate of what it would cost to stabilize a building.
However, the plan's future could come down to whether city code officials have enough manpower to make sure buyers are abiding by the agreements.
"Procedurally, it might be an issue from an enforcement standpoint," said Joshua Norman, an assistant with the city's Legal Department. "It's something we could take under advisement and discuss."
Commissioners said they would gather more information over the next month and may pass a resolution at their next meeting Oct. 4 recommending that City Council consider legislation that would put the committees plan in motion.