By Brandon Martin
Martinsville City Council heard updates on efforts to clean up blighted properties and automobile nuisances throughout the city during their Feb. 9 meeting.
Kris Bridges, a building official, said the renewed efforts to demolish problematic properties came at a savings for the city.
“Back in 2018 when we started doing this, we had about 45 percent of the demolitions by code enforcement paid for by the city. Over the last three years, that’s dropped down to 30 percent,” he said.
The city maintains a master list of properties that could potentially be demolished but Bridges said owners are given a chance to rectify the problems before any action is taken by his department.
From that list, Bridges compiles another list of top candidates. Properties currently listed are 210 Holt Street; 210 Park Street; 417 Fayette Street; 1007 Paul Street; 122 Pony Place; 550 Dillard Street; 538 Dillard Street; 546 Dillard Street; 17 High Street; 403 Clearview Street; 1025 Brookdale Street; 808 D Street; and 918 Myrtle Street.
“I put a couple on there just to spur some action to get something done,” Bridges said. “There are several on there that would probably be rehab-able, but they’ve just been an eyesore for a long time and if they aren’t going to fix them, then we are going to tear them down.”
Bridges said there are multiple variables used to help determine which properties are prioritized, and offered examples that include “the existing condition, the number of complaints, the visibility of the property.”
Bridges said title searches are required on all properties being considered.
Council Member Chad Martin asked if any of the properties would be considered for the Martinsville Land Bank Authority.
“We look at Land Bank properties a lot differently,” Bridges said. “Is it a viable property for redevelopment? Are there any liens tied to it that could come back to haunt us? The biggest thing is, do we have a plan for it once it’s in there? Just to have it doesn’t mean we need it.”
However, Bridges said that option is open for consideration.
He added there are factors that prevent the city from moving faster on some properties in need of demolition.
“Theoretically, I could probably go faster, but as I’ve mentioned before, the localities that get in trouble get in trouble for two things. One, they went too fast and didn’t consider due process. Two, they didn’t cross all of their t’s and dot all their i’s,” Bridges said. “Given the limited budget that we have, I don’t want to burden us with having to pay for something because we did it wrong.”
It took about two and half years to move through all the properties on the last list, he said.
Bridges also discussed automobile screenings and nuisances throughout the city.
Requests primarily come from “uptown partners and others around us that we do something about our entry corridors,” Bridges said.
Some examples given of automobile nuisances for residential complaints are improper parking of inoperable vehicles, vehicles in a state of disrepair, and parking on unapproved surfaces.
The city is adding a sticker notification to the process, he said.
“It’ll let people know that there are violations that are happening and let others know that yes, we are doing something. A vehicle doesn’t just magically disappear one day,” Bridges said, and added using stickers as an alert system would bring “some attention that we are going out there and taking care of violations.”
Other than the new sticker, Bridges said residential complaints would be handled the same, with owners given 10 days to correct the violation before the vehicle in question is towed.
Bridges said the city will take a more proactive approach for commercial complaints.
“We are going to set some priorities and go after some problem areas,” Bridges said, adding that the city would consult with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to enforce violations. If businesses are complying with the DMV’s guidelines, the city then will turn to the Commissioner of Revenue for further evaluation.
“We’ve got several areas within the zoning ordinance, within the nuisance ordinance, and within the state law concerning junk yards that we can take some enforcement action on,” he said, and added that businesses have between 21-30 days to appeal zoning ordinance violations.
“The more you do, the more time you get,” Bridges said of those who take an active role in resolving issues.
In other matters, the council:
*Appointed Julie Wells to the Southern Virginia Recreation Facilities Authority for a four-year term to end Oct. 31, 2024.
*Heard an update from Water Resources Director Mike Kahle on fiscal year 2021 Water Resources operations. Through Dec. 31, 2020, net revenue for water is $70,396, accounting for 51 percent of the budget. During the same period, the net revenue for wastewater was -$351,823. Multiple projects are underway, with the Beaver Creek Spillway Project slated to be completed in May or June.