For the past three years, the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic has been working with local governments throughout West Virginia on long-term land use planning. As part of this process, communities prioritize their top challenges and outline steps to address those challenges. Time after time, we have heard that dilapidated properties are a problem. In 2013, we started referring communities to the Northern Brownfields Assistance Center (NBAC), knowing that the NBAC helps communities identify and prioritize neglected properties as part of their BAD Buildings Program.
Months later, the NBAC circled back to us after finding that many communities struggle with legal issues related to problem properties and wondered if we would be willing to explain or formulate legal solutions to address dilapidated buildings. At the time, this proposal seemed quite challenging. After all, the issues surrounding dilapidated buildings include tax law, property law, land use law, estates and trusts, and more, and our small staff of attorneys, planners, and rotating law students were already hard at work throughout West Virginia. This undertaking would require a team of attorneys, expertise from subject matter experts, and, most importantly, input from communities that have already successfully dealt with abandoned properties.
In April of 2014, the clinic was awarded a grant from the Claude Benedum Foundation to develop legal resources to address abandoned and neglected properties. We call this effort WV LEAP: West Virginia Legal Education to Address Abandoned and Neglected Properties. As part of our WV LEAP efforts, we conducted a series of listening sessions throughout West Virginia to understand the main legal barriers to addressing dilapidated buildings. We reviewed ordinance provisions to find the most effective ordinance language. We interviewed dozens of subject matter experts as well as leaders working locally to address neglected properties. In May of 2015, we held a Continuing Legal Education event in Charleston with over 100 participants. In July of 2015, 90% of the members of the West Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association signed up to attend a WV LEAP seminar in Bruceton Mills. What began as a formidable task has turned into an exciting and enlightening statewide conversation. Attorneys, mayors, code enforcement officers, land use planners, and community leaders have been happy to share their experiences and lessons learned.
We have listed many of our collaborators on the acknowledgements page, but there are a few groups that deserve special mention. First, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania has been an incredible resource. We were inspired by its toolkit, From Blight to Bright. Liz Hersh, the Executive Director, gave us wonderful guidance as to structure and collaboration with partners. The second is the Abandoned Properties Coalition (APC). This coalition of partners was a wonderful sounding board to discuss examples and the effectiveness of certain tools. Members of the APC include the WV HUB, West Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the NBAC. Finally, the members of the Association of Municipal Attorneys provided invaluable feedback and served as an excellent resource for questions related to the toolkit.
From Liability to Viability: A Legal Toolkit to Address Neglected Properties in West Virginia is the culmination of the efforts of numerous individuals and organizations.
Principal Authors of the Toolkit are Jared B. Anderson, Land Use Attorney; Ann M. Eisenberg, Clinic Fellow; Katherine C. Garvey, Director; Jesse J. Richardson, Jr., Lead Land Use Attorney.
Student Contributors include:Melissa Adkins, LaTasha Banks, Andrew Isabell, Matthew Leonard, Elizabeth Pietranton, and Alex Zurbuch.
Editing was provided by Whitney Morgan.
Design services were provided by Tatsu Johnson.
Photo credits: Jessica McDonald and James Jolly
Listening Sessions were conducted in partnership with the Northern Brownfields Assistance Center.
We are also extremely grateful to those who took time to answer questions, share lessons learned, and offer suggestions:
The Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic at the West Virginia University College of Law would especially like to thank the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation for its generous support to make the production and distribution of this guide possible.