Officials look at new blight plan

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Marietta Code Enforcement Official Wayne Rhinehart documents the decay of foundational structure beneath the commercial property at the corner of Seventh and Putnam streets Tuesday, noting the collapse of further joists putting city sewer lines at risk above Goose Run.

As the city takes steps to sue properties for blight, another strategy is in the works to build up a funding structure for demolitions and restorations county-wide.

“If we’re going to start a lawsuit on a property, we also need to be prepared to be on the hook with what the court orders to happen to that property, whether it’s tearing it down or restoring it,” explained Marietta Code Enforcement Official Wayne Rhinehart.

Rhinehart explained that city council is looking for about $5,000 to start title searches on the top concerns of blighted properties in the city. But after the title searches and filing fees, there’s also the follow-through to remove the hazards from neighborhoods.

But in the meantime, Rhinehart and Mayor Joe Matthews are inviting county officials, township trustees and the general public to learn about a mechanism other counties use to address blight.

“In all the research we’ve done we’re realizing that 53 of Ohio’s counties have this tool to work with grants for tearing down and fixing up individual homes and buildings,” explained Rhinehart.

The mechanism is a county land reutilization corporation, more commonly known as a county land bank.

An information session will be held Aug. 28 at Washington State Community College to go over what a land bank is, what it can do and how a county can benefit from having one in place.

“It’s not used to strip people of their property rights, claim eminent domain or remove people from their homes for commercial development though,” explained Rhinehart. “It’s a tool that helps communities go after grant funding that puts these properties back into tax-paying use. County budgets, city budgets and school districts can all benefit from it.”

Blight in the city and county, he said, falls into six categories, requiring different approaches to remedy.

He said there are different levels; foreclosed properties, bankruptcy, heir-abandoned and owner-abandoned, landlord-neglected and owner-occupied but lacking the funds or motivation to maintain.

The Washington County Fair Board, nodding to the tightness of its own funds over the years, has been fortunate this summer to have an offer to tear down one blighted home on their property.

“We had someone approach us about tearing it down to repurpose the materials for home renovations,” explained Board President Kurt Bohlen of the dismantling of 103 Pennsylvania Ave.

The home was built in 1940 and has been owned by the nonprofit since the early 1990s.

“But it’s been sitting there empty for a while,” said Bohlen. “We didn’t have the funds to tear it down, so this is really a blessing to have the offer and at the same time clean up our main entrance to the grandstands.”

The city hopes to continue that momentum, encouraging those with the means to demolish or renovate.

At the top of the city’s blight list are two properties; 708 Eighth St., a home built in the late 1800s which is being reclaimed by wildlife, and the commercial property at the corner of Putnam and Seventh streets.

Harry Majors owns a home diagonal from the Eighth Street house and said he’s concerned about not only the structural integrity of the house, but also the dead tree in front of it.

“If that tree falls on the house next door, that’s right into their bedroom where they sleep,” said Majors.

Rhinehart said the tree commission is involved in that property and he went in the home with the fire department under a search warrant to assess the risk of the home.

“It’s properties like that one which if the court orders us to tear down, we’d need the funds to do it,” he said. “That’s where having a land bank in place could come in handy, with a grant for individual homes to be torn down, or fixed up and sold off to get it back into the tax stream.”

Matthews said he is looking forward to learning more about how land banks help other townships and counties across the state on Aug. 28 when Jim Rokakis, vice president of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, will visit Marietta to talk about county land banks.

“We’re inviting all the mayors, the county auditor, treasurer, commissioners and township trustees, plus the public,” he said. “Then a month or so after I’d like to get back together with everybody and talk about it and see if we can work together to have one if it’s what people want.”

The meeting will be held in the Graham Auditorium at Washington State Community College from 7 to 9 p.m.

If you go:

• What: County Land Bank Informational Presentation.

• When: 7-9 p.m. Aug. 28.

• Where: Washington State Community College, Graham Auditorium.

• Why: Learn how a county land reutilization corporation can be used to tackle blight in Ohio communities, the steps to create one and how private property rights are protected. Guest Speaker Jim Rokakis, vice president of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, will outline how the tool helps communities combat blight.

• Who: County, city, village and township officials and public invited to attend.

Source: Marietta City Administration.

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