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County takes aim at eyesore buildings

112217House

Pasquotank County commissioners want a county committee to begin work on a dilapidated structure ordinance to address buildings like this apparently abandoned house with its overgrown lawn on Traci Drive, Wednesday.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Residents' complaints about dilapidated, unsightly houses has spurred Pasquotank County commissioners to begin work on a local ordinance for demolishing them.

Commissioners voted Monday to direct their Special Projects Committee, chaired by Commissioner Jeff Dixon, with researching and proposing the ordinance to address “dilapidated residential structures and overgrown grass on residential lots.”

In an interview Tuesday, Dixon said the county doesn't have a process for condemning and demolishing blighted, unsafe houses — despite many complaints from residents about such properties over the years.

“This has come up probably a dozen times since I've been on the board,” said Dixon, who's served more than 12 years as commissioner.

A citizen's complaint about a dilapidated house on Traci Drive sparked this week's discussion, he said, adding that such complaints were also common in the Mt. Hermon area following the housing crash in 2008.

Dixon said the ordinance's focus will be on tearing down uninhabitable, unsafe houses and mowing overgrown lawns. Those conditions can harm surrounding property values and create health and safety risks by attracting vermin, he noted.

Dixon also said the county is not concerned with minor, aesthetic problems, nor is it trying to act against any agricultural structures.

Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Bill Sterritt, also on the Special Projects Committee, said Tuesday it's important the county be proactive about dilapidated structures, several of which are along Nixonton Road, south of Elizabeth City.

Sterritt added that junked vehicles around residences are also a concern, and he hopes the county can research its enforcement abilities against them as well.

Also on the Special Projects Committee is Commissioner Bettie Parker. However, she will become mayor of Elizabeth City next month and have to be replaced on the board of commissioners and its committees.

Assisting the Special Projects Committee will be Pasquotank County Attorney Michael Cox. he said he's still researching the county's authority in condemnations, but the county may not need to adopt an ordinance for certain demolitions.

Whether the county relies on state law or a local ordinance, demolishing houses will require both time and money. Property owners must be given notice and time to fix the problems themselves and, when they don't, the county has to have the money to tear the properties down.

County Manager Rodney Bunch said it would likely take at least 90 days to demolish a house. He also said he couldn't estimate how much the county would need to set aside for demolition.

Though the county would try to recoup its costs from property owners, it would likely spend thousands of dollars up front for each demolition. Notably, Elizabeth City City Council approved spending almost $3,500 to tear down just two houses earlier this month, an amount that didn't include landfill tipping fees. The city has had a dilapidated structure ordinance for years.

While the county is working on a demolition and overgrown grass ordinance, Bunch noted it already has and enforces minimum housing standards. People concerned that such standards aren't being met can call the county building inspector, Bunch said. That number is 338-1144.

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