City addresses structure concerns

This photo shows the gradual erosion threatening the property of homes on Hedgewood Drive in Gallipolis.

This photo, taken from Oakwood Drive, shows a reverse angle of how water has been slowly cutting away at the boulders and dirt on the hill as it slides toward homes on Hedgewood Drive.

GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis City Commission earlier this week pondered possible ordinance changes and eminent domain actions to address buildings violating city code.

City Solicitor Adam Salisbury has been researching possible ordinance change suggestions while speaking with Code Enforcement Officer Brett Bostic and City Manager Gene Greene after the last commission meeting on June 2. According to Salisbury, research has been emailed to city commissioners as they prepare to tackle concerns with code enforcement and decaying buildings.

Potential legislation was addressed at the meeting by Salisbury, who said it may be feasible to craft ordinances allowing code enforcement officers to write tickets for structure code violations within the city. It would further strengthen the bite of the department in hopes of prompting building owners to more firmly maintain their property.

During the meeting, it was stated that Bostic was making attempts to contact owners of especially decaying properties in order to work with either the residence owner or bank in hopes of coming to an arrangement where the properties could be better maintained or made safe once again.

If, after reasonable attempts have been made and no contact is established with either the bank or the residence owner, city officials discussed the possibility of taking properties through eminent domain action.

“We want a safe city. Part of Code Enforcement’s and my job is to propose alternative solutions for the commission’s consideration,” Salisbury said.

Salisbury further stated an eminent domain action would be a last option for the commission and the city’s only interest in “blighted properties” was to make them safe for residents to avoid potential fire or structural dangers of abandoned buildings.

Currently, only two properties have been discussed: 75 Cedar St. and 754 Fourth Ave.

Salisbury explained this was not an epidemic problem in the city, but a few structures were particularly concerning. When an individual goes bankrupt, he said they often forfeit a building to legal proceedings. Banks are then supposed to foreclose on the home to recover whatever investment they can from the property, but the property may be so far decayed that there is no money to be made in the property. It then sits in somewhat of a “legal limbo” as a bank may potentially not follow up to take control of the property.

According to Ohio Revised Code 719.012, a “municipal corporation” may appropriate a building it deems to be “blighted” in order to rehabilitate the structure and/or property. It then has two years to return it to a habitable standard to ensure “public health, safety, or welfare or in violation of a building code or ordinance adopted under section 731.231 of the Revised Code.” The appropriating entity must then rehabilitate the building within two years or have it demolished.

If the municipal corporation acquires the title of a building or structure, it must then offer up the property for auction to the public after an appraisal and 180 days after its rehabilitation. No property acquired in this manner can be leased.

The city commission, in other action, also discussed a grant application to tap Ohio grant funds to aid local crime victims.

An emergency ordinance was passed at the meeting allowing the city solicitor’s office to apply for a grant according to the Victim’s Crime Act of 1984 and the State Victims Assistance Act to aid Susan Grady, local victim’s advocate, and the rest of the city solicitor’s office in hope of providing better services to those in need.

According to Salisbury, the state, in the past, offered $16 million in a statewide fund to potential grant applicants. That number is anticipated to jump to $69 million. The hope of the solicitor’s office is to make use of this jump in available funding.

Concerned citizen Megan Barnes approached the commission when privilege of the floor was offered and asked the commission about the potential of private citizens seeking to raise a proposed $75,000 to help maintain the Gallipolis City Park bandstand and fountain. Commission members noted they thought this was a good idea. Group members are anticipated to take donations in City Park on July 3 during the River Recreation Festival.

Citizens representing Hedgewood Drive residents approached the commission for help with a hillside gradually sliding down into their back yards and onto structures. City Manager Gene Greene said city officials would do their best to help make contact with entities able to help, but that the city may be limited in its options to help because of the slide being on public property.

Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.