EDINBURG – Town Planning Commission members are looking to get citizens involved in discussions about beautifying the town.
For months, commission members have been trying to convince two property owners in the historic district to take charge and clean up their properties. In lieu of their cooperation, the commission members have had to resort to obscure sections of the town code to try and make changes.
Article 10 of the town code lays out actions for the town to take when a property within the historic district of town has deteriorated to the point of “demolition by neglect.” If property owners within certain zones of town — such as the historic district — allow their property to fall into disrepair, the town can claim it was destroyed by neglect and require the owner to produce a plan for its repair.
Planning Commission Chairman Stephen Van Stee said the problem has been getting a building inspector to review the properties and write a report.
Van Stee said the county building inspector declined to inspect the properties. Van Stee added that he is in the process of recruiting an independent inspector. Because the town cannot partner with the county, he said, it will have to come up with funds to pay a building inspector, pushing out the process and bringing it before the Town Council to approve funding because it is not a budgeted item.
As it is written, the town code has tied Van Stee and the commission members’ hands.
“I think we’re eventually going to have to probably change our ordinance a little bit so we’re not specifying the county building inspector as the inspecting authority,” Van Stee said.
Mark Griffey, the county building official did inspect at least one of the property but the problems he said he found and spoke with the owner about were resolved. He cited as an example a problem with a gutter that was falling that posed a threat to pedestrians walking by the home.
The town and county, Griffey said, have adopted separate parts of Virginia’s state property management code. The county, he said, has the power to do something about unsafe homes but cannot enforce aesthetic issues.
Town Mayor Dan Harshman said the town wasn't asking the county to enforce a code it doesn't have; instead, the town was asking the county to help it enforce its own code. The town, Harshman said, would do the enforcing but it needed a report from the county building inspector in order to move forward."
Griffey said he didn’t have the authority to enter the property and get enough information to file a report with the Architectural Review Board — the first step in addressing properties under the “demolition by neglect” portion of the code.
While the commission members wrestle with enforcing and revising the town code, they are planning a Town Hall event to get input from citizens about what they want to see in their town.
Van Stee said the meeting will be set up to avoid pointing fingers at properties that are below town standards. Instead, the purpose is to give residents a forum to talk about what they do and don’t like in town — and potentially put pressure on landowners whose properties are worrisome to commission members.
“We can frame it under the mantle of the condition of our town and the appearance of our town,” Van Stee said. “It almost could be part and parcel with the revitalization effort. We’ve already done a lot of that work.”
To give the meeting a sense of authority — and to keep the vision clear — commission members threw around ideas for members to make up a panel that will moderate the meeting.
Van Stee volunteered to sit on the panel along with Harshman. Other members will include a member of the Architectural Review Board, a member of the board of the Ole Time Festival, and a board member of the Heritage Foundation.
The original plan, Van Stee said, was to have the meeting before the Ole Time Festival in September. Commission members pushed back on that, saying that if they hoped to have Ole Time Festival committee members participate, they would be tied up until after the festival was over.
Planning Commission members will meet again next month to set a date for the meeting, which they expect to hold sometime in October.
The next Planning Commission meeting will be held on Aug. 20.