City officials work toward demolishing vacant buildings

NEW CUMBERLAND – The city of New Cumberland is ratcheting up its efforts to rid the town of derelict buildings, including several downtown.

Pink signs with the words “These Premises Condemned: Occupancy Prohibited” have been posted on two brick buildings on North Chester Street that formerly housed Call’s Variety Store, paving the way for the city to begin demolition proceedings, Mayor Linda McNeil said.

City officials have been talking with the Call family since May about what they plan to do with the buildings, which have been tied up in the estate proceedings of Corben B. Call Jr. After giving the family several extensions, the city is prepared to move forward with the demolition, McNeil said.

“The time has passed,” she said. “They’ve had time to comply and respond to us, and we haven’t heard back from them.”

The city’s Housing and Building Code gives property owners 90 days to “effect the repair, alteration, improvement, demolition or removal of such dwelling, building or structure” after receiving notice from the city.

Putting condemned signs on the buildings, located at 102 and 104 N. Chester St., moves the process forward, city building inspector Shawn Marks said.

“It gives the city the right to go ahead and eliminate the nuisance. Hopefully, we can further pursue the owners to take responsibility. We have to do what we have to do to eliminate what’s there,” he said.

Marks, McNeil, a city councilwoman and a representative of the New Cumberland Volunteer Fire Department inspected the buildings in May. The inspection revealed that the roof was leaking, the floor joists were weak, the floor had “huge” holes in it, ceiling tiles were falling down and the walls had mold on them, McNeil said.

“Those buildings are beyond repair, in my opinion,” Marks said. “It’s a mess, an absolute mess on the inside.”

Present during the inspection was Corben B. Call III, one of Call’s sons and executor of his estate. Corben B. Call Jr., who died in October 2011, said in his will that nothing was to be done with the buildings for two years, his son said.

“Now I’ve got to do something. I wanted to fix it up and put a new roof on them,” Call said. “(McNeil) wouldn’t give me a chance. I’m just going to have them tore down, put a fence up and it’ll look worse than before.”

Call said there’s nothing structurally wrong with the buildings and that, until recently, he was using them as warehouse space for the Call’s Variety Store in Chester.

“It was never abandoned because I was using it to store inventory,” he said.

Call said the inspection felt like a “setup” and that the mayor already had made up her mind about condemning the buildings.

But McNeil said the family had plenty of time to submit a proposal to the city and never did.

“If they don’t comply with the order to demolish and remove it themselves, the city will do it and assign the cost to them,” she said.

The last time the city sought to have buildings condemned by the courts was in 2008. It took 27 months, until March 2011, to finally get an order from Hancock County Circuit Court declaring six residential properties a nuisance and ordering their demolition.

One of those properties, a vacant, red brick house in the 600 block of North Chestnut Street, did not come down until July – a full five and a half years after the city first took the property owner to court.

Marks said the city also has its eyes on the John’s Diner building, 106 N. Chester St., which sits adjacent to the Call buildings, and the old AIR building on South Chester Street.

Farther north, in the 200 block of North Chester Street, the old Lantern Inn also is slated for demolition, but not by the city.

Northern Hancock Bank & Trust acquired the building in a foreclosure proceeding and is preparing for its demolition as soon as the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection completes its review of the bank’s plans, President Mark Mangano said.

Mangano said the building was surveyed for hazardous materials, and a “tiny bit” of asbestos was found in the roofing materials.

“Hopefully, it’ll come down in the next couple of weeks. … We’re itching to get it done,” Mangano said.

McNeil said she became more concerned about the Lantern Inn after noticing that the top floor was starting to bow in. “It is very close to an active business (Rebecca’s Lounge) and an occupied apartment. It has moved from a nuisance to a danger, and we’re hoping they move forward quickly with the demolition,” she said.

Residential properties also are on the city’s radar screen. Alan Dawson’s property on South Chester Street, the subject of a nuisance citation earlier this year, is starting to get cleaned up, McNeil said.

“We’re happy to see that. Things are looking up in that respect,” she said.

The city recently cited Michael McAbee under its nuisance ordinance for five properties that have “weeds and an accumulation of unsightly material,” McNeil said.

McAbee is scheduled to appear in New Cumberland Municipal Court on Sept. 18, she said. Hancock County Assessor’s Office records show that McAbee owns multiple properties on North Chestnut Street and South Chester Street.