WEIRTON - Easing state regulations governing removal of dilapidated properties and paying for it emerged as a shared concern at Thursday's Brooke-Hancock Planning and Development Council meeting.
Chairman Mark Henne told the panel a recent B.A.D. Buildings workshop sponsored by the Northern Brownfield Assistance Center was packed with community leaders who were looking for help in eradicating dilapidated structures in their towns and cities.
"Something's going to have to come from the state," he said. "They don't necessarily have to do everything, but they have to streamline the process and take the handcuffs off."
The process now is time consuming and costly under West Virginia law. Weirton Mayor George Kondik said his council allocated $50,000 this year to remove unsafe and unsightly structures. That's enough to do 10 homes, he said.
New Cumberland Mayor Richard Blackwell said the battle doesn't stop once a building is razed: if a lien is attached to the property, city officials have to be cognizant of requirements for periodically renewing it. If a lien lapses and the cleared property sells, the community won't recoup its costs.
Henne said it's a statewide issue.
"Everyone has this problem, it's very high up on (their priorities)," he said, adding that redeveloping brownfields, removing dilapidated housing and redeveloping West Virginia cities is critical. "We're going to need some help (from the Legislature). The state has to make changes and we have to do a better job in our own communities."
In other matters, council members were updated on economic development activities throughout Brooke and Hancock counties.
Marvin Six, assistant director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, said the group has six tenants in place at the former corrugating plant in Beech Bottom, and are developing a master plan for the 600-acre site, which includes roughly 120 acres of prime, riverfront property.
The newest tenant at the site, Jupiter Aluminum, is preparing to restart the paint line left there after the bankruptcy of former owner RG Steel.
"Other tenants there are tied in with the oil and gas industry," he said. "They're short-term tenants, but some of them are picking up (other contracts) in the area."
Six said the BDC is working with the owner of the old Brooke Glass site and was asked to look at two properties in Follansbee.
In Weirton, he told council members the BDC continues to work with Italian-based Pietro Fiorentini to prepare its $9 million plant in the Three Springs Drive business park. The company, which produces pressure regulators, valves and pressure reducing and metering systems for the oil and gas industry, will temporarily occupy space in the corrugating plant while its Three Springs Drive plant is built. Six said they'd visited the company's Italy operation to see first-hand what the company's requirements are.
He said there are 30-plus acres behind rue21 still to be developed, and said a local company looking to expand is interested in a five-acre parcel.
The old Taylor, Smith & Taylor property at Chester's north end also is attracting interest, he said. Two retail outlets have requested information.
"We'd like to have light manufacturing or commercial activity there," Six said, adding most companies are looking for direct access to the site. That's something they don't have, though he said they're working on it.
"We want someone that's going to fit into the community without a major disruption," he added. "We could have had a prospect in there already, but it would have meant about 30 trucks a day going in and out. We didn't feel that was appropriate for the site," which is located in a residential area.
Six also said brownfield assessments of the old football stadium in Weirton are being done. "There's one possible prospect there, but it's just in the preliminary stages," he said.