Vacant building demolition a challenge for small towns

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BOONE COUNTY, W.Va. (WCHS) — While it may be easy to look into an old building and wish someone would just tear it down, it’s a bit more complicated than that, especially for small towns in Appalachia.

“It’s very frustrating,” Whitesville Mayor Fred Harless said.

There’s more than 20 buildings Harless said he’d like to tear down. The problem is the cost of doing so. Their owners are either no longer alive or out of state collecting back taxes.

“The law allows me to come in here and demolition this building, but when I do so I have to absorb all that cost,” Harless said. “A building like this would be upwards of $90,000 to do demolition on.”

Whitesville recently tore down a building, but it cost more than $100,000, with $46,000 of that just for asbestos abatement. “The budget for the town doesn’t allow us to come in and tear these structures down,” Harless said.

Danville City Manager Jerry Brown said they are better off than some, but still have some problem properties. “These buildings are a detriment to any town,” Brown said. “We have those throughout our county.”

Danville has had some success stories. A dilapidated property at the corner of Price Branch Road and Marshall Avenue was transformed into shaved ice and coffee business Mmmm Tropical Sno. “These folks have opened up this business. It’s probably a year and a half in the making,” Brown said. “We’ve taken something that was a negative and made a positive out of it.”

Bigger cities have been working to get rid of local eyesores. This year the city of Charleston is spending $1 million to tear down vacant homes. Huntington is spending a lot as well to do the same. Not every municipality, however, has the budget to do that. There are plenty of buildings still standing, and it may take help from higher up to get them down.
“We’re going to have to get our state leaders and possibly our federal leaders to understand the problem that the southern part of the state has,” Harless said.

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