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Wellsburg Council Has Questions on Redevelopment Authority’s Plan

Plans to include about 15 properties in a redevelopment plan pursued by the city’s urban redevelopment authority have been questioned by the property owners involved as well as city officials.

The board recently held a hearing on the inclusion of certain structures and vacant lots in the plan, which the volunteer board plans to use to attract new development. After hearing from property owners concerned about it, Wellsburg Council agreed to table the proposal.

Representatives of council and the redevelopment authority heard from attorney Marc Chernenko, who spoke on behalf of Steven Buck, who owns a garage that is among the properties. Chernenko said a letter dated Dec. 21 was received by Buck on Jan. 4, giving him only three business days to respond.

The letter was among several sent to property owners indicating their properties had been designated as blighted to enable the urban redevelopment authority to pursue public funds to repurpose them for commercial, residential or other development.

Chernenko said his client was misinformed by representatives of the city who told him the designation wouldn’t hurt his property. He said that wasn’t true because it allows the city to condemn the property and claim it through eminent domain.

Chernenko said it’s not clear to his client why his property was declared blighted and he would like it to be removed from the plan.

Johanna Weiler, secretary of the urban redevelopment authority, told Chernenko, “We have no intention of taking anyone’s property at all.”

She noted the board has included other properties in two previous redevelopment plans and not pursued ownership of any of them.

City Manager Steve Maguschak said for the purpose of redevelopment, a property may be categorized as blighted if it is dilapidated, deteriorating, old or obsolete (which may be defined as no longer in use), overcrowded or has conditions creating danger or a risk to health.

He said the previous plans helped to make unused property available for new development.

As an example, he cited the former Snyder’s gasoline station, where funds secured by the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission were used to remove underground gas tanks, enabling the owner to sell the property.

Maguschak said the property owners may seek to have the blighted designation removed by having them inspected.

Second Ward Councilwoman Mary Margaret Rosso and 4th Ward Councilwoman Della Serevicz said they were surprised the urban redevelopment authority didn’t contact the property owners personally before sending the letters.

Serevicz said she understood how they could find the letters upsetting, and Rosso said she was surprised to find some parcels among them.

Both questioned whether a vacant lot can be described as blighted.

Both Weiler and Maguschak apologized to the property owners, with Maguschak saying, “Perhaps the letter was misleading and needs better defined.”

He instructed the city’s building inspector to assess Buck’s property.

Fourth Ward Councilman Charlie Harris said council should be informed before such action is taken by the board.

He asked, “What’s the benefit to property owners for them to do this?”

Maguschak said removing dilapidated structures helps to improve the property values of neighboring properties, and including them in the plan allows the redevelopment authority to seek funds for demolitions.

First Ward Councilman Jack Kins noted some of the properties are owned by the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle and asked whether the plan could be limited to them.

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