Elkton town zoning administrator J. Craig Trostle says his office cannot currently address blighted properties effectively.
“(Eminent domain is) the only way that I can do anything or you can do anything with these commercial properties or residential properties that are blighted,’ ” Trostle told Elkton’s Board of Commissioners at their Wednesday work session. “I can’t do anything with them unless they are in imminent peril of collapse and there is not a one that is right now.”
In attempting to acquire property through “eminent domain,” however, the town must have the property assessed and then pay an agreed fair market value to the owner, Trostle added.
Town Commissioner Charles Givens said acquiring property through eminent domain might actually be to a landowner’s advantage depending on how long it had been on the market.
Trostle presented sample ordinances from three jurisdictions dealing with blighted properties, including some from Kentucky, Washington and Altoona, Pa.
In Altoona, the city created a Blighted Property Review Committee in 1979, which is a budgeted department that only works to fight blight around the city by buying or acquiring it through eminent domain and then reselling it.
In Newark, Del., the town will pay a contractor to fix the outside of the building and then place a lien on the property for the cost of the work done, Trostle said.
“That’s kind of a complicated process, because you have to get contractors to the project and bid it out, get to court to get permission to be on the property and if the owner won’t pay the lien you ultimately go to tax sale,” he added.
Trostle told the board that he wanted town attorney H. Norman Wilson to look into fee schedules that would place fees on vacant properties, which increase with more years.
“It would encourage owners to fix it up and get it occupied,” he said.
Trostle also said that he would like to get the RMR Building torn down now.
The property’s owner, Eric Schwab, was in attendance at the day’s meeting to update the town on his progress for the property.
Schwab told the town he is attempting to get his property rezoned during the town’s Comprehensive Rezoning Plan, so that he can begin work on a residential complex.
“We’re absolutely ready to develop that property into multi-family complex,” Schwab told the board. “We’re ready to break ground as soon as you give us the OK.”
He added that he has kept contact with the town on a monthly basis as he awaits a rezoning request from industrial to R-3, multi-family residential.”
Town Commissioner Earl Piner said he brought up RMR because the property reflects the town.
“(The RMR building) came up, because on behalf of the citizens and living in this town for 50 plus years, it is an eyesore plain and simple,” Piner said. “When you live in the town, you try and see it in the best light. I don’t want to see it as garbage.”
Piner did add that he appreciated Schwab bringing an update on his property to the board’s attention.
Trostle also informed the board that a contractor had contacted him about tearing down the former George’s Restaurant at the intersection of East Pulaski Highway and Landing Lane.
“I’ve met with the bank officials three times about tearing it down and how it will be easier to market an empty lot,” he said. “(On Tuesday), a gentleman called me about what it would require to demolish the building.”
Zahid Aslam, who is currently attempting to build a drug treatment facility at the former Basics building nearby, has expressed interest in purchasing the land, Trostle added.