Addressing neglected properties is a long-term process that benefits from planning and public buy-in, especially when public funds are used to address problem properties. The comprehensive plan helps determine an overall vision of the community and helps communities prioritize the use of funds and staff time. The goals contained in the comprehensive plan are aspirational, and the action plan, also part of the comprehensive plan, sets up realistic steps towards achieving those goals. Steps outlined in the plan can protect key assets and resources that are important to the community, such as historic resources or an important business corridor.
- Prepares a community for the future
- Proactive instead of reactive
- Can identify and help prioritize neglected properties
- Establishes tools that may be implemented to address neglected properties
- Assists in obtaining grant funding
- Serves as a prerequisite for some tools, such as the creation of an Urban Renewal Authority
- Enables a strategic approach to neglected properties
- The public participation required to create an effective comprehensive plan can bring a community together and energize the effort to address neglected properties
- The comprehensive plan is a policy document and therefore cannot be enforced
- Establishing the comprehensive plan requires time, effort, and nancial resources
- Without a team to implement the goals of the comprehensive plan, the goals may not be achieved
Some grant funding may be available to finance the process of drafting a comprehensive plan, including flex-e-grants. Flex-e-grants are a joint effort of the West Virginia Development Office, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. 2
In addition, The Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic at West Virginia University College of Law may be able to provide technical assistance for a reduced fee or, in some instances, at no charge to communities that have few resources yet are interested in planning for the future of the community. 3
Chapter 8A of the West Virginia Code provides the required procedures and components of a comprehensive plan. Procedures include adoption of the comprehensive plan by the local governing body, two required public hearings, and the adoption of public input procedures to guide public participation. Plans must be reviewed and updated every ten years.
Usage in West Virginia
Most municipalities in West Virginia have adopted comprehensive plans. Although less common, a significant number of counties in West Virginia have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, a comprehensive plan as well, including Hardy County, Fayette County, and Putnam County. In order for municipalities or counties to enforce zoning regulations or subdivision and land development ordinances, they must adopt a comprehensive plan.
A comprehensive plan in West Virginia must discuss the following components: 4
- Land use*
- Public Services
- Economic development*
- Community design*
- Preferred development areas*
- Renewal and/or redevelopment*
- Historic preservation*
* Particularly applicable to neglected properties.
Recognizing that neglected properties posed a significant issue, when the City of Dunbar adopted its comprehensive plan in 2014, the City set a number of goals to address neglected properties and established an action plan to accomplish those goals. The City used its comprehensive plan as its centerpiece to be selected to participate in Phase II of the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program. City officials believed the selection was based in part on the strength of its comprehensive plan.
Consequently, the City of Dunbar has the authority to adopt and implement some innovative tools to address neglected properties. These innovative tools include the ability to issue on-site citations and the ability to place liens on neglected properties for the cost incurred by the City to maintain the property and address neglected upkeep. 5 For more information, see Sections on the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program, On-site Citations, and Liens for Demolition and Repair.
Many communities in West Virginia address neglected properties in their comprehensive plan. The City of Weston and the City of Wellsburg are two examples.
The City of Weston’s comprehensive plan lists vacant and dilapidated housing as Critical Issue 2, Goal 2, “Encourage housing improvements throughout the City to attract and retain residents.” The objectives under this goal and the action steps that seek to address them are listed below. Note that the City’s comprehensive plan details each goal, objective, issue, and step.
Objective 1: Institute a city-wide housing program for vacant, dilapidated, and condemned structures.
Objective 2: Enforce ordinances with homeowners.
- Action Step 1: Develop an inventory of all vacant and dilapidated structures.
- Action Step 2: Target code enforcement and resources to key investment areas.
- Action Step 3: Develop a system to track complaints.
- Action Step 4: Increase enforcement of building codes and property maintenance ordinances to improve appearance of the City.
The City of Wellsburg’s Goal 3 of its comprehensive plan seeks to promote the continued development and redevelopment of the City. In addition, other objectives and action steps implement Wellsburg’s goal of continued development and redevelopment. Only those items directly related to neglected properties are included below. Note that the City’s comprehensive plan details these goals, objectives, issues, and steps.
Objective 1: Reduce the number of abandoned and dilapidated commercial and industrial sites in the city.
- Action Step 1: Identify, and then declare by resolution, areas in the city that are slum or blighted and in need of redevelopment.
- Action Step 2: Work with the Wellsburg Urban Redevelopment Authority to create redevelopment plans.
- Action Step 3: Regularly update the vacant and uninhabitable buildings registry.
- Action Step 4: Continue to participate in and be an active member of the Brooke-Hancock Brownfield Redevelopment Task Force, which meets quarterly.
Objective 2: Enable city redevelopment or demolition of abandoned and dilapidated residential structures that are not acted upon by the owners.
- Action Step 1: Continue to seek FEMA grant funding for further demolition of residential structures that meet the necessary requirements for demolition.
- Action Step 2: Prioritize dilapidated residential structures for demolition.
- W. Va. Code Ann. § 8A-1-1 (West 2015).
- See Flex-E-Grant, W. Va. Dep’t of Com., http://www.wvcommerce.org/people/communityresources/financialresources/flexegrant/default.aspx (last visited Jul. 27, 2015).
- See West Virginia College of Law: Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic, http://landuse.law.wvu.edu/ (last visited Jul. 27, 2015).
- W. Va. Code Ann. § 8A-3-4 (West).
- City of Dunbar, Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program Phase II Application (2014), available at http://www.wvcommerce.org/App_Media/assets/doc/peopleandplaces/WV_Home_ Rule/Dunbar.pdf.