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Charleston council passes delayed-demolition bill

By Rachel Molenda, Staff writer

More of Charleston’s historic buildings could be spared from demolition after the City Council passed Tuesday evening a delayed-demolition ordinance.

The bill originated with the Strong Neighborhoods Task Force and outlines three levels of historic designation.

The first is a “badge of honor” that recognizes a building’s historical significance. The second allows for a 90-day stay of demolition for historically designated buildings. Community members can take those 90 days to work with developers to figure out an alternative use for the building. The Historic Landmarks Commission, which is charged with approving or denying nominations and stays of demolition, could waive the 90-day delay if a structure is found beyond repair.

The third level gives a structure a historic designation, allows for a demolition delay and requires a design review for any changes made.

Buildings that aren’t already on the national or local historic register at the time of proposed demolition wouldn’t be covered under this ordinance.

The City Council has the final vote on whether a structure would be listed on the local historic register or not.

Councilman Joe Deneault announced at the end of Tuesday’s meeting that there will be a community safety meeting held Thursday at Stonewall Jackson Middle School at 6:30 p.m.

The council also heard from retired Charleston Fire Chief Chuck Overstreet about sick days and accruals to be used toward OPEB health premiums for firefighters. Overstreet said firefighters have approached him since the city cut their sick days and said it feels like discrimination, because his department was the only one to experience cuts.

“In the Fire Department, the only people that deal with sick people 24-7, 365 days a year … they have to have a doctor’s excuse every time they’re sick,” Overstreet said.

City Manager David Molgaard said the city decided in 2012 to “parity” firefighter sick leave with that of civilian employees. Firefighters now get one-and-a-quarter the number of sick days that regular employees get, Molgaard said.

Overstreet also criticized the council for not having more meetings to discuss changes that affect the Fire Department and said he wants there to be more public safety committee meetings when issues arose.

“You have a debate about trash bags. Trash bags, and you trash the Fire Department,” Overstreet said.

Molgaard said the city started to address firefighter OPEB, but is “looking to get the litigation that the firemen have filed against us over some of the changes we made resolved before we took the next step and tried to implement this citywide.”

In other business, the council on Tuesday:

n Allowed the city to apply for the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s emergency-management performance grant. The grant would allow the city to improve its emergency-management response system and would reimburse it 50 percent for most operating costs incurred by its own emergency services office.

n Approved a budget amendment that would shift funds from the Stormwater Engineering Department’s professional services account to its computer software account to purchase three licenses for GIS software. The amendment also moved money from the Strategy Management Department’s contract services account to the Information Systems Department’s professional services and computer software accounts. That transfer would fund software licenses and implementation services.

n Entered into a contract with Thaxton Construction Co. to build a retaining wall on Buena Vista drive after a water main broke there. The cost of the project, nearly $100,000, would be entirely reimbursable by West Virginia American Water. The city also received a bid from Bilco Construction Co., for $121,824.

n Entered into a contract with Precision Pump & Valve Service to buy and install pumps and related equipment for the underpass at Virginia Street on the city’s West Side. The city closed the area recently following heavy rains that flooded the area because the pumps weren’t working properly. The contract will cost the city $64,100.

n Also entered into a contract with Tom Grishaber Builders for $59,000 renovations at “a city-maintained facility.” Finance Committee Chairman Bobby Reishman said before the council meeting that the building’s location could not be disclosed, as it is one used by the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network Team, or MDENT.

n Purchased a 2015 vehicle from Bert Wolfe Ford for $28,482. The model of the vehicle to be used by MDENT was not disclosed at the meeting.

n Purchased a tactical robot from SuperDroid Robots Inc. for $35,692. The robot — which rolls on two tracks, has a mechanical arm and can climb stairs — would be used for surveillance, said Police Chief Brent Webster.

“This is not military surplus, right?” Mayor Danny Jones asked jokingly.

Webster said the robot would be used in situations similar to last year’s standoff between police and attorney Mark Bramble in his South Hills neighborhood.

“We didn’t know if we should enter the house. We didn’t know if he was injured,” Webster said. “It’s more for intel. We could definitely take a phone in, if we had a hostage situation. We could take a phone in to the person. It’s not offensive in any way. It’s not going to shoot anything.”

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5102 or follow @rachelmolenda on Twitter.


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