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Charleston Taking New Approach To Vacant Buildings

Reported: Mar. 18, 2014 9:51 PM EDT
Updated: Mar. 19, 2014 3:12 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) The city of Charleston is taking a new approach to tackle a long-standing problem of vacant buildings. The message: Fix the property, get someone new in, or pay up!

You don't have to look far in Charleston to find a vacant business or an abandoned home. In fact, the city says there are at least 300 properties like this, and it's a problem. That's because over $350,000 in taxpayer money every year goes to boarding those places up, keeping the grass mowed, and sending police on calls to repeated problems at those locations.

"If they're not going to be responsible, then they're going to pay the city a fee for us to provide those services," said Tony Harmon, Charleston building inspector.

That's thanks to a new measure approved by the city council this week. It calls for every vacant property to be registered, no matter how long they've been empty. Starting in six months, fees will kick in for properties that stay vacant, and those fees can keep increasing for up to five years at a cost of up to $1250 to the property owner.

"We're not looking for the city to become rich off this or anything by no means," said Harmon.

The goal is to get property owners to undertake renovations, bring in new business, or just tear bad buildings down.

Some people think the new fee is a great idea for empty buildings like this to get up to code or filled up. Others say it's just a new, unneeded tax.

"I think it's unnecessary because if they raise the fees, there's going to be people moving out of Charleston," said Sean Sanders of Charleston.

"This is empty. This is empty. That's empty. Everything's empty. Why? Why? And there's so many. Get an apartment. Get some people in there, you know," said < Danniel Quinn of Charleston.

Either way, the new fee is on the books, and the city just hopes it will be a good thing to help restore buildings many agree have been left untouched for far too long.

This measure also calls for owners of vacant properties to be charged if they don't register their building. If they do register, they'll have to pay for keeping the building empty, until they address the problem.



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