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Parkersburg URA approves eminent domain acquisitions

PARKERSBURG — Acting as the Urban Renewal Authority, Parkersburg City Council voted Tuesday to acquire two properties via eminent domain over objections from their owners.

After speaking with building owner Roger Anderson, the authority voted 5-4 to acquire and demolish 2301 Dudley Ave., a former restaurant that has been vacant for about eight years. They then voted 9-0 to acquire and demolish or seek rehabilitation for 915 26th St., although the man who recently purchased the tax lien at an auction sent a letter asking the authority not to take action.

Anderson, who also owns a number of properties in downtown Marietta, told the authority he has made efforts to comply with the requirements of the city’s Building Enforcement Agency to improve the Dudley Avenue property in recent months.

“We have covered graffiti. We have covered the raw wood that was exposed,” he said.

Anderson said he needs to have a soffit and overhang repaired and siding placed on the building, but must get a building permit to do that. He cannot obtain one because he owes the city approximately $7,500 in outstanding fees and must make a down payment of $1,700 and establish a payment plan first.

“I’ve done everything I’ve been asked to do that doesn’t require a building permit,” Anderson said. “If it (the down payment) had been 500 bucks, then it already would have been done.”

Mayor Tom Joyce said he made an administrative decision to no longer allow property owners who “owed excessive fees” to obtain building permits.

The property was first discussed by the authority in May, when they voted 7-0, with two members absent, to table the item because they wanted additional information.

On Tuesday, some council members expressed a willingness to give Anderson additional time to complete the repairs to the building’s exterior, while others said the city had waited long enough to take action on the property, which sits on a busy thoroughfare near Parkersburg High School.

Councilman John Reed said the vote was a chance to stand behind the work the code department has done.

“It’s hard for us to go out and say we need to get tougher on code enforcement and then not back them up in these meetings,” he said.

Councilman J.R. Carpenter said code is “doing an excellent job” and giving the owner more time does not diminish that.

“The crowning achievement of that is not driving to eminent domain and taking over properties, but compliance,” he said. “That’s where they’re successful.”

Urban Renewal Chairman Mike Reynolds said the building has been “standing way too long.

“This building’s in my district. I couldn’t count on both hands the number of calls I’ve taken on this building,” he said. “It’s a crappy building. It needs to go.”

Anderson said he acquired the building in a “circuitous” manner seven or eight years ago and admitted it had not been a priority for him. He said that has changed as he’s worked with the Building Enforcement Agency, offering his attendance at those and Tuesday’s meetings as evidence of his commitment.

“If you think it’s not a priority for me, then I’d like to know what I’m doing standing here,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he had a potential tenant in mind for the building, once he got it repaired.

Councilman Jeff Fox suggested the building might be a good test case for the real property tax rebate program council approved on first reading Tuesday. Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl said she might believe that if the building had not been an issue for so long.

Anderson left council chambers before the vote was taken. Carpenter, Fox and Councilmen Bob Mercer and Eric Barber voted against acquiring the property.

When the city takes a property via eminent domain, it is required to pay fair market value. The owner can appeal the amount in court.

The estimated price for 2301 Dudley Ave. is $28,000, with a projected demolition cost of $8,500.

The house at 915 26th St. has been an issue in the neighborhood for 17 years, Councilman Zach Stanley told fellow authority members. The building has holes in the roof and has caught fire at least once, he said.

Development Director Rickie Yeager was contacted Monday by a Ripley man who said he purchased the lien on the property two weeks earlier at a tax auction. The man said in an email to Yeager that he intended to gut the home and repair it so a family member could live there.

Authority members asked Assistant City Attorney Rob Tebay how long it might take the man to fully acquire and address the property. Tebay said there is an 18-month period in which the original owner can redeem the tax liability.

“That thing’s not going to make it another year,” Councilman Dave McCrady said.

Carpenter said he considers eminent domain a last resort but an individual purchasing property at a tax sale should do their due diligence.

Tebay said the money paid to acquire a property via eminent domain first goes to the tax liability, so the purchaser would get the $1,900 he paid back. The assessed value of the property is $27,100, with an estimated $15,000 demolition cost.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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