Elkins, W. Va., May 25, 2021: The City of Elkins Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Department has launched a public online tool for exploring data about dilapidated structures in Elkins.
The new Dilapidated Structures Dashboard presents the address and map location, condition, and status of properties that have been evaluated by the city building inspector for violations of the property maintenance code.
“The building inspector uses a structure evaluation survey to determine the severity of a structure’s condition,” says Ben Martin, the city’s GIS technician. The survey is based on a tool created by West Virginia University’s BAD Buildings Program. “These evaluations basically help to determine whether the city should seek repair or demolition of the structure.”
On the dashboard map’s Structure Status tab, users can click on a property on the map and see a range of information, including the structure’s address, survey date, evaluated condition, and—if demolished—the date of the demolition and any cost to city taxpayers.
“The Structure Status tab is meant to communicate progress, whether toward demolition or toward convincing the property owner to address the building inspector’s concerns,” says Martin. “The Structure Status tab shows what a lengthy and costly process it can be to get a structure demolished, whether by acquiring the property or seeking a court order forcing action by the owner.”
In addition to providing the cost of each individual demolition, the dashboard presents a running total of demolition expenses incurred by the city and the average cost of demolishing a property, currently $134,653and $17,873, respectively.
“When spending public funds, it’s important to look at how much it costs to achieve policy objectives, like dealing with unsafe buildings,” says Martin. “We wanted the demolition costs front and center so users can easily see how much this kind of neglect is costing all of us.”
Another feature charts the location of the owners of dilapidated structures. According to this feature, only 55 percent of listed structures are owned by Elkins residents, with 32 percent owned by a single resident of Lake City, Florida.
“Ownership location data is also important to display because the farther away property owners live, the harder it can be to motivate them to address the issues with their buildings,” Martin explains. “This is good information for users to have so they can understand why the process of dealing with one structure might take a long time compared to others.”
The dashboard began as a grant-funded project managed by the West Virginia Region VII Planning & Development Council, which shifted the project to Martin after his hire by City of Elkins earlier this year. Optimized for use on desktop computers, the dashboard does not currently support use on mobile devices, although this capability is planned for a future update.
The Dilapidated Structures Dashboard may be accessed here: www.bit.ly/Elkins-Dilap-Dashboard.
House was posted as uninhabitable with entrances sealed
Elkins, W. Va., March 10, 2021: Two people died last night in a fire that occurred in a house on River Street. The house had been closed and posted as uninhabitable by city fire and code enforcement officials. The decedents have not been identified, and the W. Va. State Fire Marshal is investigating.
The house, at 5 River Street, had been offered for sale at auction in 2019 for unpaid property taxes but did not sell. The State of West Virginia now holds a lien against the property for the unpaid taxes and associated fees.
This property came to the attention of city officials last year because of a large refuse pile in the backyard and signs of entry and occupation by unauthorized persons. Because there was no water service to the house, it was considered de facto uninhabitable under city code. The front porch was also missing, and the house was in a general and advanced state of disrepair.
City Code Enforcement Officer Phil Isner ordered the unauthorized occupants to vacate the premises, requested electrical power be disconnected, and—on June 1, 2020—posted signs on the front and back doors informing that the house had been determined to be unsafe. The signs prohibited occupancy until such time as an official finding that the identified hazardous conditions had been corrected.
At the time of the posting, Isner sealed the back door with plywood and screwed the front door shut. He also closed and locked the building’s windows. Isner and Elkins Fire Department Chief Tom Meader included the property on their near-daily rounds monitoring properties of concern.
Lacking title to the property or a court order authorizing further steps, the city had at this point exhausted its options for enforcement actions against this property. After the posting, the city offered to redeem the tax lien, take title of the property, and shoulder the cost of demolishing the decrepit structure, but this offer was declined by the owner of record.
The Elkins Fire Department responded to the fire and attempted to make entry, but the building was fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived. Because the fire occurred in a building with no electrical power or gas service, it seems to have resulted from human activity. As is always the case when fires result in deaths, the W. Va. State Fire Marshal is investigating and will be the only source of any further official statements regarding this matter.
Elkins, W. Va., November 20, 2020: On Wednesday, a demolition crew contracted by City of Elkins tore down a derelict structure at 506 South Randolph Avenue in Elkins. The demolition was authorized by a Randolph County Circuit Court order. The city does not have title to the property and so cannot auction it, but a city lien against it seeks to recoup approximately $40,000 in demolition costs at the time of any future sale. (more…)
Elkins, W. Va., November 10, 2020: At 10 a.m. this Friday, the City of Elkins will offer three residential properties for sale by auction, as-is, in the lobby of Elkins City Hall. Winning bidders will need to immediately remit 10 percent of their winning bids in the form of cash or a certified check and must pay the remaining balance within 30 days. (more…)