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Pasquotank board OKs anti-blight procedures

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Pasquotank County commissioners unanimously approved new procedures this week for tackling blight, giving county staff the green light to condemn properties whose owners refuse to keep them in basic repair.

Commissioners voted 7-0 Monday afternoon to accept “unsafe housing procedures” as proposed by County Manager Sparty Hammett. Hammett had proposed the county step up its efforts against blight during a meeting almost two weeks ago.

The county has authority under state law to condemn and demolish dilapidated housing, but it’s needed two things to exercise that authority. One was money to pay for demolitions; the second was specific procedures laying out how the county would exercise its authority, 

Hammett said last month he included about $32,500 in this year’s budget to cover at least some of numerous properties in the county that are drawing complaints. On Monday, he laid out the procedures the county will follow to condemn and demolish dilapidated housing. 

The procedures state the county will, upon a citizen’s complaint, investigate allegedly unsafe housing to determine if it has health, safety or structural issues. Under the rules, a house being “unsightly” is not enough to justify condemnation.

If a structure meets the “unsafe housing” criteria in General Statute 153A-366, the building inspector will place a notice of condemnation on the structure and attempt to notify the property owner directly. If the owner fails to take “prompt corrective action,” the inspector will send out a second notice explaining the structure is one or more of the following: a fire or safety hazard; dangerous to life, health, or other property; is likely to cause or contribute to blight, disease, vagrancy, or danger to children; would attract a person intent on criminal activities.

The property owner would then be notified of a county hearing, after which they’ll be given at least 60 days to fix the problems. If the problems haven’t been remedied by the two-month period, the county building inspector can have the structure demolished. The procedures note property owners may, with written notice, appeal the inspector’s decision at the hearing to county commissioners.

Though the procedures could allow a structure to be condemned and demolished in a few months, Hammett stressed to commissioners he plans to show flexibility, and give extensions to property owners making a good-faith effort to fix structures.

To reduce the cost of demolition, Hammett also said the county would hold controlled burns where possible. Controlled burns typically offer training opportunities for firefighters.

With the procedures in place, the county has plenty of work ahead. In addition to numerous structures already reported last month, Hammett noted that a Daily Advance report on Pasquotank’s unsafe housing plans led to another 18 homes being added to the list of potential cases. Based on a quick assessment, at least 10 of those structures meet the unsafe housing criteria, Hammett said.

Hammett also noted to commissioners that the county is responsible for enforcing safe housing in the area where Elizabeth City has extra-territorial jurisdiction, and in areas outside the city limits entirely.

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