Important local stakeholders usually include mayors, code enforcement officials, councilpersons, municipal and county attorneys, building code officials, planners, police and fire department officials, local business and property owners, concerned citizens, neighborhood associations, schools, bankers, nonprofit organizations such as the local Main Street organization and housing organizations, and developers. These knowledgeable individuals and groups can come together formally or informally to brainstorm possible approaches to neglected properties based on local needs and resources.
Collaborating groups working together more formally can inventory and prioritize properties that need attention or engage in any level of proactive planning the group sees fit. Unsafe Building Commissions and BAD (Brownfields, Abandoned, and Dilapidated) Buildings Committees are good examples of more formalized collaboration. Less formal collaboration can also be effective: just bringing people and groups with diverse perspectives together can help communities formulate solutions tailored to local goals.
The City of Fairmont’s BAD Building Staff Advisory Committee created a “top ten” list of problem properties to help the City shift from a complaint-based approach to a more proactive one.
- Helps communities consider and implement strategy that takes most advantage of local resources to meet local needs
- Different and diverse perspectives promote creative solutions
- Uses limited resources
- Encourages community engagement
- Can start with the important first step of determining the scope of the problem
- May have less of an impact than a larger-scale approach, such as a comprehensive plan or redevelopment plan
- Collaboration that excludes some stakeholders or is not viewed as transparent may compromise community buy-in or enthusiasm
- With a large group of collaborators, organizational issues and conflicting expectations may arise, requiring more time and resources to keep the initiative on track
This approach should not need any funding at first, although additional time and resources of public employees may be required. Enthusiastic community volunteers can play a big role. Technical assistance grants, if available, can help the community get collaboration initiatives off the ground. For more information, see Appendix J.
Usage in West Virginia
This approach has been gaining increasing popularity throughout West Virginia as communities realize that no one actor can take on neglected properties alone.
From 2001 to 2011, Charles Town and Ranson worked together to revitalize a blighted corridor that went through their adjacent downtowns. “Two key parcels at the center of the corridor were mothballed for decades, held by families unable and uninterested in sale or redevelopment. . . . The cities of Charles Town and Ranson engaged these property owners, local developers, and the broader community in a process to create a reuse vision for this corridor, to educate stakeholders on opportunities, and to prime the market for reuse. . . . In this case, small lot property owners, an inexperienced local government, and reluctant investors who had given up on this downtown corridor came together to create a reuse vision that is now being implemented.” 1
There is no standard process when trying to establish collaboration among key players. It can be as simple as bringing people together for a conversation. More formal groups often start by inventorying the neglected properties throughout the community. Next, they prioritize sites in need of the greatest amount of attention. A group’s approach should emphasize transparency, open public participation, and involvement of all stakeholders at each step of the process. Partnership with local government helps maximize a group’s effectiveness.
In 2014, Fairmont established two separate groups devoted to tackling the issue of neglected properties. The first, the BAD Buildings Team, was comprised of concerned citizen volunteers who collaborated with the City Planner and other local stakeholders. By the end of 2014, the Team had identified over 300 neglected properties and mapped approximately 250. The volunteers helped categorize the buildings according to their condition and developed a system for prioritizing properties to address the issue. Volunteers also researched properties’ title information in order to identify owners. Friendly letters were sent to the owners of vacant properties, many of whom live out of state.
The second group, the City of Fairmont’s BAD Buildings Staff Advisory Committee, was formed by City Council resolution to determine objective criteria and a process through which to prioritize the demolition of buildings at the City’s major gateways. This committee has played a more formal role in city affairs, for instance, by encouraging City Council to designate funds to address neglected buildings in the budget. Members of the advisory committee include representatives from fire, police, code enforcement, planning, public works, and city administration. Using the members’ diverse areas of expertise, this group worked to identify neglected properties, created a “top ten” list, and aimed to help the City shift from a complaint-based approach to a more proactive one.
1 U.S. EPA, Revitalizing Mothballed Properties: Challenges, Success Stories, & Solutions 23–24 (2008), available at http://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi/P1002IB3. PDF?Dockey=P1002IB3.PDF.