Dilapidated buildings

A building in Bluefield is seen being demolished in the fall of 2018 in this file photo. The County Commission is currently discussing how to address the dilapidated buildings dotting Mercer County.

PRINCETON — Finding a way to demolish burned-out and dilapidated structures found throughout the area is the goal of an ordinance being considered by the Mercer County Commission.

The topic of a dilapidated building ordinance was a discussion item during the county commission’s Jan. 14 meeting. County Commission President Gene Buckner said that the commissioners have not made any decisions about the proposal.

“We’re still discussing it. We haven’t made any ruling one way or the other,” Buckner said. “I think myself that we need to have some kind of ordinance. There are buildings, houses that have been on fire and then been sitting for 15 years.”

The cities of Princeton and Bluefield have ordinances and procedures for dealing with the demolition of dilapidated structures, but the county does not have anything similar in place.

The commissioners are looking at how neighboring counties such as Raleigh and Fayette deal with abandoned structures that have become eyesores.

“We have reviewed some of the similar ordinances that have been provided to us,” Commissioner Bill Archer stated. “What I came back to is the State Code.”

Unless options for dealing with dilapidated structures exist in the State Code, there is nothing counties can do, Archer said. The only thing Mercer County could use is the current state litter law, so the commission is seeing how other county governments deal with the problem.

“I know there are ordinances that exist in Raleigh County and Fayette County,” Commissioner Greg Puckett said. “I’d like to see what they do. If we don’t have some authority to do these things, that makes it difficult to do anything.”

“I’d like to see how they enforce it,” Buckner said of the ordinances in other counties.

Finding ways to pay for demolitions is another challenge. Archer said that state Sen. Chandler Swope, R-6th District, has been working on legislation which would help localities with the cost of tearing down abandoned buildings and houses that are eyesores and pose public health issues.

Swope told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph previously that he has been working on a program that would make state and federal funding available for reclamation of abandoned structures. McDowell County, for example, has between 5,000 to 8,000 abandoned homes. Swope said the bill would be submitted early in the next legislative session, and that there was strong support from the House, the Senate and the governor.

Buckner emphasized that the county commission was still researching what regulations could go into a dilapidated building ordinance, how it could be funded and enforced. The Mercer County Planning Commission would draft an ordinance for the commission’s consideration. Once a final draft is completed, the commission would have three public hearings about the ordinance before it could be enacted.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Buckner said. “It’s nowhere near finished.”

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

Recommended for you