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Out With the Old, In With the New: Wheeling Continues Process of Getting Properties Cleaned Up

Demolition of old and dilapidated structures continues to take place throughout Wheeling. On Thursday, machinery could be seen on the former site of a Main Street structure in the heart of downtown.

WHEELING — It’s a process that involves many steps that may seem tedious and time consuming, but officials in the city of Wheeling continue to move forward with efforts to have dilapidated properties throughout the city removed.

This happens regardless of whether or not property owners willingly take the initiative to tear down structures found to be in violation of city codes.

During this week’s meeting of Wheeling City Council, an ordinance was introduced to fix the assessment for the cost of razing dilapidated structures on properties throughout the city. The city has already torn down the buildings, and these assessments will become liens against the properties where the deteriorating structures once stood.

The most recently razed structures include those at 201 and 203 Highland Ave., 105 S. Huron St., 45 S. Broadway St., 306 Main St., 91 National Road, 530 Stone Boulevard, 1097 Vine St., 2742 Jacob St., 3742 McColloch St., 3819 Wood St. and 30 Maryland St. in Wheeling.

“As we work towards ridding our neighborhoods of blight, this is another step in holding the property owners responsible while recouping some of the taxpayer dollars that were spent for demolition and removal of the structures,” said Vice Mayor Chad Thalman.

City Manager Robert Herron this list reflects the list of properties on the back end of the process in which property owners are given opportunities to address the problem themselves.

“City council authorizes the demolition contracts,” Herron explained. “There’s a process when there is a dilapidated structure. Sometimes we can’t find the property owner. Sometimes they won’t cooperate … it takes some time.

“These properties are on the tail end of the process. They’re already gone, so this is the last step. We do have an active list of properties that are in the initial phases of the process, as well. Every year we do this, sometimes twice a year.”

There are several properties in the city that have failed inspections. Notices are sent to property owners to give them a chance to address their situation. If no action is taken, the issue goes through the court process. If still no action is taken, the city can move to address the problem, raze the structure, seek liens on the properties and go after the property owners for reimbursement.

“The focus is to find the responsible property owner and get them to demolish the building after it’s been deemed condemned,” the city manager explained.

Herron noted that sometimes property owners comply after the initial notice is sent. He noted that sometimes they comply after court action is taken and an order is issued to tear down the property. Sometimes property owners do not comply at all.

This week, heavy equipment could be seen in the heart of downtown at property on Main Street near the entrance to Market Plaza where an old building was being removed. Herron said this was a case in which the property owner was complying with city orders by taking the initiative to remove the old building on their own.

Each year, the city budgets money to take care of properties that make it through the process without seeing compliance or cooperation from the property owners.

“Typically, it’s around $125,000 to $150,000 each year,” Herron said, noting that different funding sources have been used. Initially, money from Community Development Block Grant funding that is dedicated to address slum and blight areas had been used for these projects, but now, capital improvement funding is used — whether it’s from City Sales Tax or Oil and Gas Tax funds.

Partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new list of property demolitions for the 2020-21 fiscal year has not yet been developed. However, it will be decided in the very near future, Herron noted.

Once the Finance Committee of Wheeling City Council meets later this month, members will discuss the budget for demolitions this year, look at costs estimates to tear down structures on the list and compare that with a prioritized list of sites that have gone through the process and need to be torn down. Asbestos abatement and related costs are also considerations, Herron said.

For structures that are falling down and pose an immediate danger to the public, a different process is used to have the structures torn down immediately, according to the city manager.

New Wheeling City Councilman Ben Seidler, representing the city’s Ward 2 neighborhoods of Wheeling Island, Fulton, North Wheeling, lower Glenwood and the northern part of the downtown, targeted the need to clean up neglected properties and neighborhood eyesores through his campaign. He vowed to go after violating property owners and help bring renewed sense of community pride to the city’s neighborhoods, making these key issues that saw him defeat a longtime incumbent councilman and win a five-candidate race decisively.

This week, the city also took steps to move forward with locating its new police and fire headquarters at the former site of the Ohio Valley Medical Center, which the city recently acquired. Before the OVMC purchase, the city had been looking at a former warehouse site on 19th Street where — if it had been selected as the site of the city’s new Public Safety Building –environmental issues would have needed to be addressed before a new structure could have been built on the site.

Since the OVMC purchase was made, Mayor Glenn Elliott has mentioned the possibility that city council may still be interested in acquiring that site.

“I still believe city council should put on its business development hat and have a serious discussion of the pros and cons of acquiring this property going forward,” the mayor said of the 19th Street property last week. “There are not a lot of flat multi-acre parcels within city limits available for economic development.”

The deteriorating warehouse buildings have stood vacant for years near one of the city’s entrances off of W.Va. 2. One of the benefits the city saw when the site was being considered for the new Public Safety Building was it would result in a revitalization of that deteriorating and highly visible section of the city.

According to the city manager, the 19th Street warehouse site has already been in the pipeline as far as inspections and notices for clean-up. The property owner, Frank Calabrese, has already taken the initiative to remove some structures that had been on the site. There had been an extension on the city’s option to purchase the site, and on Thursday, the city manager indicated that the city still has an option to purchase the property.

Herron also said on Thursday that an Environmental Protection Agency grant that could be used to address contamination issues at the site would still available, but it could only be used if the property was owned by the city.

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