NEW HAVEN — Phase I of a year-long project to rid the Town of New Haven of unsightly or dilapidated properties is now complete.
Mayor Charles Yonker said even before he became mayor a little over a year ago, he looked at a number of problems in the town, but one became central – that of condemnable properties. Noting that this is a problem for every town to some extent, the mayor said in West Virginia, it is a big problem.
Yonker quickly targeted 10 properties in his town that needed to be cleared and cleaned. As of last week, five of those have been completed.
The mayor said when he looked at the process of legally addressing ridding the town of the dilapidated properties, it was overwhelming.
“The whole number of steps involved drags out,” Yonker said. “A zoning board has to condemn the property and issue a notice. The owner then has time to respond, and so on. There is also considerable legal expense.”
With 10 properties on his target list, the mayor began to think outside the box.
“I went to E&R Excavating and asked them to give me an estimate on the properties,” the mayor said. “Depending on size, to tear down, remove, and finally seed the ground with grass, was between $3,500 and $4,500 each.”
Knowing he didn’t want to dip into the town’s general operating funds, he took a “friendly condemnation” approach that would allow the landowner to maintain ownership of the property. The owner would fund the majority of the project (some by making payments back to the town), and the town would supplement.
To support the town’s portion of the project, the mayor approached two private foundations and requested grant money. The first turned him down because it didn’t fall within its guidelines. The second, which the mayor declined to name, agreed to supply money for a first phase.
“Instead of the entire package I requested, we are serving as a pilot project,” the mayor said.
With the fifth property now completed, Mayor Yonker said the money is gone. He will now take the success of the project back to the funding source in hopes of getting additional money for the second (and final) phase.
Mayor Yonker said the circumstances surrounding the unsightly properties varied case-by-case. He said some were inherited and worthless from the beginning. Some had owners who were operating on tight budgets. Others just needed “a little nudging.”
Properties being cleared thus far include two on Fifth Street, which is the main thoroughfare in town; one at the corner of Rollins and Seventh streets; another on Sixth Street behind the Lutheran church, and finally, an old barn on Layne Street that once housed a dairy.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing and lives in Mason County.