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City working to demolish vacant structures, CURA told

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The city of Charleston has between 150 and 200 vacant homes, about 1,000 property liens and is demolishing buildings at least a few times a week, according to Building Commissioner Tony Harmon.

"Seven or eight years ago, I would have told you, 'Hey, I think we're on top of this thing. We're closing up,'" Harmon said. "With the foreclosures and everything, we're back to square one."

Harmon told Charleston Urban Renewal Authority commissioners and Mayor Danny Jones, who attended the commission's monthly meeting Wednesday morning, that about 70 percent of vacant buildings in the city are homes. Property owners "walk away" from homes Harmon called "obsolete" because they have little or no resale value.

Demolished properties tend to be vacant residential ones that are dilapidated. Some are associated with crime and others are brought to the commission's attention after catching fire, Harmon said.

Two buildings on Stockton Street with "a real drug problem" were taken down last week, he said. Structures on West Washington Street and Leon Sullivan Way are slated to be demolished in the next month, Harmon said.

The Building Commission works on 10 or 12 properties continuously, but has about 25 backlogged, Harmon said.

Cost determines the pace at which the commission can handle properties throughout the city. There is a general fund, but the commission frequently runs out of money.

"I've already ran out this year of general funds and went back for more," Harmon said. "I usually have to do that about two or three times a year."

The commission wants to create a kind of database of vacant properties in Charleston so it can see exactly what's out there, Harmon said. CURA board members expressed an interest the idea.

CURA commissioners also received updates on Shrewsbury Village from Bill Turner of Pison Development. The senior housing project will have 32 ADA-compliant units and 48 parking spaces -- 1.5 per unit. The building's first floor will serve as a lobby and mail area for residents and have about 6,000 square feet for commercial space.

Pison's $350,000 purchase of the site -- located on the block bordered by Shrewsbury, Lewis, Dickinson and Christopher streets - was approved by CURA in May.

Turner said he hopes to begin construction of the complex after the first of the year. It should be ready for occupancy by 2015.

CURA Executive Director Jim Edwards suggested reconsidering the boundaries of the newly re-enacted Downtown/Old Charleston Urban Renewal Plan. Edwards described the boundaries as "gerrymandered" and said they should be considered based on the current state of the area.

Those boundaries were determined as part of an urban renewal plan that expired in 2008.

CURA awarded a contract for The East End Historic District Survey and Nomination to Michael Gioulis, a historic preservation consultant. The proposed district covers both sides of Washington Street, runs north to Piedmont Road and continues into Charleston's warehouse district.

If approved by the National Park Service as a district on the National Register of Historic Places, properties will be eligible for federal and state income tax credits.

Funding for the survey was approved at last month's CURA meeting.

In closed session, CURA commissioners learned the organization's offer to purchase long-vacant property at 1601 Washington St. E. -- across the street from the Bluegrass Kitchen -- was approved.

The 7,500-square-foot commercial property was acquired after more than two years of condemnation proceedings. It was held up in federal bankruptcy court after its owners -- the Dandy Family Trusts -- filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2011.

CURA acquired the property for about $75,000, according to Edwards. The deal is expected to close within the next few weeks.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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