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Clarksburg can resume demolition program after favorable court ruling

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — The City of Clarksburg plans to resume its demolition program for abandoned, dilapidated structures after a court ruling in its favor last week.

“We were very pleased with the outcome,” Mayor Cathy Goings said on Monday’s edition of “The Mike Queen Show,” heard on the MetroNews-affiliated AJR News Network. “We’re currently working on a plan to start back to razing some of these properties early this fall.”

Officials with the state Fire Commission overstepped authority granted to them by the legislature when ordering the city to vacate planned demolitions, according to Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Bailey.

“…the Fire Commission has no authority to vacate any pending demolition order in furtherance of the usurpation of its authority,” Bailey wrote in her ruling issued Thursday.

The legal battle between the municipality and the state body began two years ago when the Fire Commission issued a cease and desist order regarding the demolition program.

On behalf of the commission, Assistant AG Stephen Connolly accused the city’s code enforcement officers of engaging “in conduct in violation of the State Building Code” and that code enforcement officers were not properly certified.

City council responded by updating its ordinance to include the most recent state laws regarding code enforcement and the two officers in question entered into an agreement to step down from those responsibilities without admitting any wrong doing.

These steps were taken because the city recognized the commission’s authority regarding building codes.

“We don’t really have a quarrel with that,” said City Attorney Greg Morgan.

However, further action taken against the city by commission officials led to further litigation.

“What the Fire Commission was seeking to do, they were asserting that they had overall authority over the municipality itself and its program, and further that they could consider whether individual property owners got due process rights.”

The city filed a lawsuit in the Kanawha County Circuit Court, claiming this authority was not designated to the commission by the legislature.

Judge Bailey agreed, writing “There is no express or implied statutory or other authority to support the fire commission’s contention.”

Goings was thankful for the ruling, as it allows them to address not only an “eyesore,” but a danger within the city.

“Just recently, we had a fire up on Parill Court and one of those properties was abandoned and caught fire, and caught the next door structure on fire as well,” she said. “Total, we had to raze three properties up there, so it’s a safety hazard for our community.”

Demolition of the 35 structures currently on the list will not resume immediately, as the program will have to build up funds after a two year delay.

“We will have to look at securing loans, especially for the larger demolition projects,” Goings said. “Our administration is currently working out a plan to raze as many structures as we can and hopefully we can do that this fall.”

A phone call placed with the state Fire Commission has not yet been returned regarding any plans to appeal the ruling.

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