GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis City Commissioners met during their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday evening and discussed concerns with dilapidated buildings within the city’s historical downtown district.
Area engineer Randy Breech initiated the conversation.
“We’re proceeding on with the redevelopment of the Lafayette building (on Second Avenue) and in doing so we have the first floor rented out to several tenants,” said Breech. “It’s been brought to our attention, these tenants, like we are, are concerned about neighboring properties. There is a building directly across the street, across Court Street, there’s two buildings there…Those properties should have been addressed a long time ago, but as I understand, the code enforcement officer Mr. (Brett) Bostic, who I spoke with today, said in two more days the 2018 International Property Code will take effect, that you (commission) have adopted.”
Breech claimed the buildings near the former Lafayette Hotel, which is currently being renovated, were dilapidated and needed addressed by city commission, as well as others in the area. He wanted to see the city move to enforce stricter enforcement measures upon dilapidated buildings in the city.
“In my opinion, these things should be very high on our priority list even though I know we (the city) don’t have a lot of money to deal with but I hope with Mr. Bostic having these newfound powers, that I’m told he has does, that things like this do get addressed,” said Breech.
With new and old companies investing in property in the downtown area, Breech felt “this kind of stuff can’t be ignored anymore.” Breech also cited concerns with parking in the downtown area as he felt more residents would be moving in to the area with new apartments and new businesses. City Manager Gene Greene noted that if the city were to condemn a building after writing multiple citations, it became the city’s financial responsibility and that buildings could not be sold without removing safety issues and then had to be legally auctioned to the public. He asked Breech if he would have any interest in property on Court Street. Breech responded affirmatively, if given the right price.
“Now, long story short is everything you’ve talked about there is dollars and cents,” said Greene. “We do not have dollars and cents. We will help you on anything we can with code, but I don’t think we should take liability and I don’t think you should go in and try to use the city as a tool to condemn that property and then buy it.”
Breech responded that was not “necessarily what he was meaning” and that he was concerned that those buildings should have been addressed long ago.
City officials said the commission had in the past attempted to strengthen property code in order to give the city’s code officer “more teeth” and understood dilapidated structures to be an ongoing issue. Commissioner Beau Sang asked if it was possible to raise fines on structure owners to keep buildings from degrading. City Solicitor Adam Salisbury described an ordinance passed in early 2017 establishing registration for owners of vacant buildings, whether they be residential or commercial. The buildings would need registered with the code enforcement officer. The ordinance would also establish an inspection schedule for a twice-a-year examination. The ordinance would also attempt to establish an escrow practice in which if an owner was looking to demolish a structure, then an owner would need to offer an amount of money as an insurance bond with the city. According to Salisbury, this would promote owners to destroy a building completely. If not, the city could then use the money in holding to finish the demolition. Lastly, the proposed ordinance would create a fee schedule if a vacant building was not being remodeled or occupied. The first year a building owner would pay $200 on the vacant or non-remodeled building. The fee would then double every year to a maximum of five years.
The city has also approached building owners in the past with attempts to discuss options to rectify degrading buildings. When agreements could not be reached, the city went through with eminent domain proceedings on properties at 754 Fourth Avenue and 75 Cedar Street, beginning in 2015 and on into 2017. Salisbury said it was an expensive process to demolish structures and acquire property in an attempt to make it available for public auction.
City officials agreed ongoing structure health was a concern and said they would continue to consider Breech’s concerns and decide how best to move forward.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.