Charleston City Council passes changes to handling vacant structures

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two weeks after Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin announced proposals to address vacant and abandoned properties, the city council passed three bills that established a city land reuse agency and updated existing codes.

The Charleston Land Reuse Agency will be responsible for identifying available properties and acquiring such lots. The city’s code on vacant structures was updated as were fee and fines for dilapidated properties.

Beginning Sept. 1, owners of properties will have to submit a plan of maintenance and repair to the city. There will also be a $250 fee for a vacant structure on a registered vacant property, a $500 fee for an abandoned building on the registry, and a $1,000 fee for any property that has been registered for 12 consecutive months.

A $10 fee will be issued every day after the 12 months.

“This administration has been in place for about seven months. There’s a lot of work still to be done,” Goodwin said. “What was passed tonight were three really good bills that are going to take us in the right direction.”

City attorney Kevin Baker said the Goodwin administration began working on the bill shortly after Goodwin took office in January; he described the drafting process, which included meeting with local officials and community groups.

“I think I had a first draft of the bill around May 1,” he said.

Baker also talked to leaders of Huntington and Morgantown, which have similar agencies. Baker said Huntington officials warned of doing too many projects at one time, which can be overbearing.

“They went in and got a whole lot of property with their land reuse agency right away, and have had a hard time trying to figure out how to get it back out into development,” he added. “The hope is to be really careful and focused on what area we want to tackle first.”

Goodwin said people frequently approach the city about problems with vacant properties; Goodwin addressed concerns about such structures during a community forum last month at the North Charleston Community Center.

“When you have broken windows, boarded-up houses, boarded-up apartment complexes all in these neighborhoods, it decreases the value and it hurts the entire neighborhood,” she added. “Not only does it hurt the values of properties adjoining, but it also is extremely detrimental to the value of a neighborhood.”

Councilman Pat Jones, who represents north Charleston and has fielded complaints from residents, publicly thanked Goodwin for the bills.

The Charleston Land Ruse Agency will consist of the mayor, city manager, city attorney, two members of the city council and two Charleston residents to be appointed by Goodwin. Baker said the agency will have to first look at the city’s acquired properties and determine what projects the city needs.