Officials in Christiansburg are taking a proactive, aggressive approach to eliminate dilapidated structures in the town.
Scattered throughout town, there are abandoned homes that are falling into ruin. These are the eyesores local leaders hope to remove to make the neighborhoods more attractive.
Building official Jerry Heinline told members of town council on Tuesday his department had identified as many as 11 homes, outbuildings and a church that need to be demolished. After compiling this list, staff determined that seven of the 11 were ruled beyond a reasonable repair and should be demolished.
Notices were then sent to property owners in hopes they would agree to take down the structures. Several will be demolished by the summer, and Heinline hopes others could soon follow.
“If we are unable to contact the landowner, then we as a town will look to demolish the buildings,” he said. That expense could be recouped through a court-ordered lien on the property so when and if it is sold, the town would receive monies back from the demolishment.
Also, in some cases, the individual in violation does not have the financial means to correct the issue.
“Our goal is to have as many as five of these buildings demolished by December,” Heinline said.
In these cases, it is property maintenance that comes into play. Property maintenance primary pertains to violations related to the dwelling unit, accessory structures, retaining walls, fences, swimming pools, spas and hot tubs, and includes, but it is not limited to, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, fire safety, egress and sanitation.
Heinline said in the past that Christiansburg’s property maintenance program has been reactive where it was only driven by a complaint from a citizen. He felt this was the wrong to approach the problem.
Earlier this year, both he and Town Manager Steve Biggs agreed there should be a new proactive approach.
“The problem with reactive enforcement is that while it satisfies the person who filed the complaint and does address a small part of the community, it does little to bring about general improvements to the property and throughout the community,” Heinline said.
Proactive enforcement on the other hand is considered to be a more effective way, according to the building inspector, to combat blight within the community
“Careful planning and execution of a proactive program can have a profound effect in reversing blight,” he said.
Examples of maintenance violations include: accumulation of trash within buildings; defective electrical systems, broken windows, damaged structures like joists, beams and columns; unprotected wood surfaces exposed to weather; leaking plumbing systems and roofs; lack of functioning plumbing systems and improperly functioning heating and cooling systems.
“Typically, when we discuss dilapidated buildings, people ask, ‘why can’t you just condemn them?’ But a locality may not condemn a building just because it’s an eyesore,” Heinline said.
“Blighted buildings, structures and exterior property areas that are not maintained are concerns for many within a community. We receive complaints frequently in regards to vacant or blighted buildings or property that is not being maintained,” he said.
Thus, when neighborhoods are not maintained, municipal costs go up and tax incomes goes down.
“Blight increases the demand on a tax-supported function of the locality, property values go down and tax revenue declines. A portion of the tax base has ceased to be self-supporting, and the tax load is then shifted to newer, more desirable areas of the town,” Heinline said.
So far, the early results show the proactive program has been successful. Already three structures have been torn down.
Council members expressed positive support for the new approach and admitted the community will look better when possible new residents tour the area.
In other matters, council appointed former town manager Barry Helms as a liaison to the Montgomery County Solid Waste Authority.
The governmental body also moved quickly to approve the award of a bid for design work associated with the Quin W. Stuart Boulevard intersection where a new stoplight will be constructed. Town Engineer Wayne Nelson anticipates the construction will be completed by this fall.
The intersection of Quin W. Stuart and Peppers Ferry Road had become a major concern for residents living in that area. They had complained it had become more and more difficult to turn left back toward New River Valley, and a change needed to be made with the addition of as many as 300 new apartments in the next two years.
The developer of that new complex has agreed to pay a portion of the amount for the new signal light with the town and Virginia Department of Transportation providing road sharing funds to the project.