City reaches 50th nuisance home demolition

May 18, 2019

HUNTINGTON — The city of Huntington will tear down its 50th vacant and dilapidated structure by the end of the month, ahead of schedule on a goal to demolish 100 before year’s end.

Scott Lemley, executive director of the city’s Planning and Development Department, stood before the city’s latest demolition project Friday. Crews were tearing down a nuisance home in the 2600 block of Collis Avenue in the Highlawn neighborhood, which had been vacant on and off for more than a decade.

Neighbors said they were glad to see the abandoned home finally being torn down, and people driving by the demolition site honked their horns and cheered.

During his State of the City address in February, Mayor Steve Williams announced a plan to prioritize a list of nuisance structures and then demolish more than 100 before 2020. It’s part of a project titled “B.A.N.E.” (Blight and Nuisance Elimination), which uses money collected from private donations, largely from anonymous sources.

The home on Collis Avenue will be completely torn down by Monday, Lemley said. The city has nine more homes lined up to be demolished before the end of May, which will place them over 50 homes demolished.

The city needed to tear down approximately eight abandoned homes a month to reach its 100-home goal. So far, they’ve averaged about 12 a month, Lemley said.

“The neighbors are so happy and grateful that we have moved on these and we are getting them down,” he said. “They are a haven for drug and crime activities and also fires they have to worry about.”

Jesse Walker lives next door to the home on Collis Avenue. He has spent many hours cutting its grass so it wouldn’t make his own manicured lawn look ugly.

He would stay up late at night chasing away trespassers looking to break into the home and steal things or find a place to stay.

“If you show somebody doesn’t care about a property, then what’s going to stop them from saying, ‘Hey, what about that one next door?’” Walker said. “We had people coming in the middle of the day and cutting waterlines and people in the middle of the night breaking into it to steal what they could take.”

Walker purchased the home in February and quickly began working with the city on how to get it demolished. He plans to fence in the property and make a bigger yard for his middle school-aged children and three dogs.

He thought of the new Highlawn Elementary School, which is being built on the site of the old Enslow Middle School along Collis Avenue. He said he didn’t want the children to look out their windows and see the dilapidated home.

“If you’re in elementary school and you look out across the window to an abandoned house, you think that’s your future,” he said.

Brenda Carel lives two doors down from the abandoned home and has lived on Collis Avenue for approximately 25 years. She said it’s a relief to see the old home finally coming down and no longer having to fear the fire and safety hazard it posed.

Christal Perry, demolition specialist with the city of Huntington’s Planning and Development Department, serves on West Virginia’s Abandoned Properties Coalition.

The coalition has a motto of being “professionally aggressive” in pursuing nuisance homes to target for demolition, she said.

“This was somebody’s home, and you have to be respectful. We have to be professional and respect that somebody grew up here and somebody spent a lot of time here,” Perry said. “At the same time, you have to understand these side property owners should not be left with the burden, nor should the taxpayers.”

Each year, Lemley and Perry drive through the city looking for unsafe homes to add to the unsafe properties list. People may also call in to complain about potentially unsafe homes.

Once a house is determined to be unsafe, they work to notify the homeowner, which can take several month in some cases. Homeowners have to go before the Unsafe Building Commission, which looks at the property and determines if it needs to be demolished. Once approved, the commission will determine the level of urgency of the demolition.

The city has a contract with one demolition company, which bypasses the need to bid out the demolition projects and seek approval from City Council for each home being torn down.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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