WESTON — The city of Weston has started the tedious but important process of cleaning up its dilapidated structures, according to city and WVU officials.
“Weston is far along in tackling their community blight,” said Luke Esler, project manager of the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Program, whose organization is providing technical assistance to the city for this effort.
“Weston is very proactive compared to other communities across the state,” Elser said. “The city created a Better Buildings team a few years ago that surveyed the entire area and created an inventory of dilapidated properties. They also have code enforcement, which a lot of communities don’t have.” The city of Weston and the Weston Better Buildings Committee applied for and will receive technical assistance from the Northern Virginia Brownfields Assistance Program, the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic at the WVU College of Law, and the West Virginia Community Development Hub to deal with the city’s dilapidated buildings, Esler said.
“Real property expansion and redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence of hazardous substances,” he said. “This could be asbestos in old homes, or abandoned industrial sites, old gas stations, or old tipple site properties where they used to load coal onto coal trucks. We’re talking about contaminated property or property that community thinks is contaminated that isn’t being used as a new house, business, or park.”
The city has already started tackling community blight, said Bryan Reed, the city of Weston’s building inspector and certified code enforcement official.
“Since we did the survey, we’ve demolished four structures (residential and commercial) and are currently trying to acquire one from the state and two from owners,” Reed said. “Our survey showed we have around 110 dilapidated structures. Not all need to be demolished; we’ll help people with financial assistance to fix some up. It will be a long road, but as long as we get positive results, we’ll keep rolling with it.”
The city of Weston also created an Urban Renewal Authority in July to promote the removal and reuse of blighted properties to encourage economic and community development in target areas in Weston, Elser said.
“We’ll help the city and URA create a redevelopment plan required for the URA to legally function,” Elser said. “The plan will determine what the URA is designed to do, strategies it will use, areas it will target, and what kind of redevelopment to promote. Once the URA is up and running, they’ll be able to go after grants and loans and partner with property owners and developers.”
“The URA will give Weston a systematic approach to dealing with dilapidated houses,” said Kat Garvey, director of the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic at the WVU College of Law, who is also assisting Weston in redevelopment. “They will be able to identify redevelopment projects in Weston, which is good information for developers. It shows that Weston is investment-ready.”
For Weston, the lead provider will be the law clinic. The next step is for the law clinic to connect with the city to put together a timeline, Elser said.
Attorneys and land use experts will work with the URA to create a redevelopment plan. The Brownfields Center will be assisting them to identify and prioritize high-priority properties for redevelopment and reuse planning and reuse visioning activities.
Weston’s applications for technical assistance were accepted in September, and the speed of the process depends on how quickly the local community moves through the process, Esler said.