Piedmont will not pursue 'zombie properties' for now

Liz Beavers
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Piedmont City Hall

PIEDMONT - Even with a new state law and a county ordinance aimed at helping clean up blighted properties, at last one Piedmont city official says he feels they lack one main ingredient for successfully pursuing the issue.

Piedmont City Council member Terry LaRue said Wednesday that he has been researching the issue, poring over the city’s ordinances and talking with officials from other cities, including Romney,  to see how Piedmont  could handle the problem of blighted and dilapidated properties.

“I stopped down at the city building … and started going through the building codes … and I’m running across the same problem everywhere; we don’t have a code enforcement officer,” he said.

Earlier this year, West Virginia State Legislature passed Senate Bill 42, otherwise referred to as the “Zombie Property Bill,”  and it was signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice on March 29. The bill provides authorization for any municipal or county government to initiate a court proceeding with the ultimate goal of foreclosing on abandoned properties so they can be remediated or razed.

In addition, the Mineral County Commission passed the Revised Building Safety Ordinance in November 2020, setting up a Building Safety Committee to address unsafe properties. Officials from each of the county’s five incorporated municipalities have been invited to participate in a combined effort to tackle the growing issue once the committee becomes active.

Wednesday, however, LaRue told his fellow Piedmont Council members “the key to the whole thing” for Piedmont is to have a compliance officer to identify those properties needing attention, and “right now, we can’t afford to pay a compliance officer full time.”

LaRue said the town would also need a Housing Commission and a Board of Appeals in order to make the process work.

“You send somebody in with a letter telling somebody they have things that have to be done in 30 days,” and those property owners must have a place to appeal any decision,” he said.

Without those in place, LaRue said “right now, I think our hands are tied.”

LaRue did note that his son at one time worked as compliance officer for both Keyser and Westernport, and maybe he could be helpful in letting the city know what qualifications are needed if they would decide to hire one in the future.

He suggested, however, the “Zombie Property” law not be pursued at this time, and there was no further discussion on the matter.

Liz Beavers is managing editor of the Mineral Daily News Tribune and can be reached at lbeavers@newstribune.info