FRONT ROYAL — Although the town in October adopted the state’s property maintenance code, officials are still considering how to enforce it.
Planning Director Jeremy Camp told councilmen during a Monday work session that the town cannot enforce the property maintenance code until hiring a code official and establishing a board of appeals.
He said that the town could either hire its own code official, jointly fund an official with a nearby locality or outsource the position. He added that the town could use Warren County’s building official, but county officials previously indicated they were not interested.
Councilman Christopher Morrison disagreed and said that even though the town does not have a building official, it is allowed to address blighted buildings.
Councilman Eugene Tewalt agreed, noting that recently granted powers in the state code allow towns to take action on dilapidated buildings by notifying the owner that their building is unsafe without a building official. Town Attorney Doug Napier said that is correct but if property owners do not take corrective action, the town must take them to court. He added that the town would have to send such a notice to every person who owns a dilapidated building.
Morrison added that outsourcing the building official immediately is “low hanging fruit.”
Tewalt agreed that outsourcing is the best option, but said the town should kick off the program slowly by just addressing unoccupied dilapidated buildings. He added that the town could examine how to move forward later as the program evolves “because we don’t know where we’re headed.”
Councilman William Sealock agreed regarding outsourcing, noting that he does not want the county involved at all.
“I want our own people that are in place that are going to do this, let’s hold our staff responsible,” he said.
Morrison added that the town should not use the county’s board of appeals and establish its own.
“That way you keep it all in the town and you may be surprised who would be willing to be on that board,” he said.
Morrison said it would “behoove” the council to make a decision “with some level of clarity” on how it will move forward enforcing the code. He said citizens should not be under the false impression that the town’s adoption of the property maintenance code gave them any rights.
“Why have six people vote for something they aren’t going to see through? No more kicking the can, no more years of delay. If you vote for it, see it through. You have the baby, take care of the baby,” he said.
Morrison added that he is not assured there is going to be “any kind of closure here.”
Councilman Jacob Meza asked if the town could offer the county inspector a per diem to examine a few blighted buildings “to test the waters” before releasing an outsourcing request, which Town Manager Joe Waltz said could be discussed in the upcoming town-county liaison committee meeting.
Mayor Hollis Tharpe said the matter is “very cumbersome” and new to staff, but the town should be able to move forward in some way by the end of January. He added that the town still needs “a lot of answers before taking the first step” but “moving forward is the thing to do.”
“My thought has always been that if we’re going to do this, do this right...Starting off with baby steps is nothing to be ashamed of,” he said.