City sees potential demolition of West End homes as mitigating vagrancy, pests in abandoned homes
Published 12:10 am Sunday, August 29, 2021
By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — For years, residents of the West End have expressed concerns related to vagrants and rodents in abandoned homes in their neighborhood.
As a solution to that, the city could demolish 11 homes. The goal is to mitigate issues related to public safety, increase property tax value and beautify neighborhoods overall.
For the 2021-22 fiscal year, which spans from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, a total of 22 homes have been placed on the list for potential demolition. The 11 located within the West End include 409 and 801 Grace St.; 1022 Locke St.; 318 Vanderford St.; 1027 W. Horah St.; 425 Messner St.; 623 Forney St.; 1436 Old Wilkesboro St. and 1002 W. Monroe St.
Properties at 713 Grace St. and 1024 Locke St. are included in the list but have since been demolished by the owners themselves.
The process leading to demolition is a long one and involves investigation from the city’s code enforcement officers. A structure must first be deemed “dilapidated,” or beyond the scope of repair. Dilapidated also means more than 50% of the property’s tax value is needed to bring the structure up to code.
Officers use county records and an extensive title search to issue orders of compliance to the owner and all heirs. The owner is then required to attend a hearing to discuss plans for the structure moving forward. Owners have a period of 90 days to either bring the structure up to code or it will be demolished. Extensions are offered if significant progress is being made to the property. Owners will sometimes opt to demolish the structures themselves, but if they have no intent to do so code enforcement officers will try and obtain permission to move forward with the demolition.
“(The) list is colloquially called the demo list, but it’s really an initial and internal list we have to initiate a minimum housing inspection and enforcement process because of the property’s vacant and visibly deteriorating condition,” said Salisbury Planning Director Hannah Jacobson. “They don’t always end in the city taking responsibility for demolition. Many are sold, some are demolished by the private property owner and in the best cases, they are rehabilitated.”
All demolitions the department handles must first be approved by City Council members. Following the demolition, owners are invoiced and have 10 days to resolve the cost of the demolition or a lien is placed on the property, which prevents the owner from selling or transferring a title until the demolition fee is paid.
Each demolition can range from $3,000 for smaller structures to as much as $10,000 for larger ones.
Jacobson added that following a demolition from the city, the land remains in the hands of the private property owners.
Demolitions can help remove “eyesores” in the community, which leads to an improved morale among the neighborhood. Other times, demolitions make room for future developments. Such is the case at 504 East Liberty St., where a burned house was one of nine demolished in the 2019-20 fiscal year. A total of 12 were on the list that year.
“(The) presence of vacant/dilapidated buildings can have an impact on neighboring property values for aesthetic reasons,” Jacobson said. “They also can provide refuge for criminal activity, and a related heightened risk of fire. In rare circumstances, the buildings themselves are a safety hazard and need to come down quickly to protect the health and well-being of the public.”
Barbara Perry is a former member of the city’s Housing Advocacy Commission. Perry said Code Services Manager Michael Cotilla brings to each meeting information about code enforcement across the city and properties that have been out-of-code for more than a year. Though City Council has ultimate authority for demolitions covered by the city, the HAC serves in an advisory capacity.
Perry said the commission is typically never in favor of demolishing a home if it can be saved, but many are also demolished per the owner’s request.
Perry said she recalls complaints at HAC meetings over the last few years of abandoned homes being used to raise pitbulls in addition to harboring rats and snakes. For these reasons, demolitions can do a lot to help the neighborhoods, she said.
“It’s the neighborhoods that want some of these homes gone because of the vagrancy, and now the groundhogs,” Perry said. “It’s not empty houses that bother them. It’s what happens at those empty houses … There are some horrible things that go on in these houses. It has helped a lot in neighborhoods.”
Salisbury resident Pamela Jones said her mother, who lives on the 1000 block of West Horah Street in the West End, is accustomed to seeing a groundhog in excess of 30 pounds near her home. Jones said she witnessed the rodent travel from the historic Monroe Street School, across Lloyd Street and into her mother’s yard before nestling inside next door at an abandoned house located at 1027 West Horah St.
Former council member Kenny Hardin is working to mitigate issues of groundhogs and rodents in the West End after fielding complaints from residents near the Jersey City neighborhood, the Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency on West Bank Street, Livingstone Headstart and East Fisher Street. Since the beginning of August, Hardin said traps have been set at the fence line of the city-owned water overflow basin near Bank and Vanderford streets and near Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency, in addition to some backyards of homes near Bank and Institute streets.
Jones said this issue has been one for at least six years now, adding that restoring or demolishing abandoned homes in that area would do a lot to mitigate the influx of rodents. The abandoned home at 1027 West Horah St., which sits next to her mother’s home, is among the properties that could be demolished by the end of the fiscal year.
During the 2020-21 fiscal year, two of the 18 of demolitions the city approved were near the site of Livingstone Headstart — 420 Partee St. and 411 Grim St.
The city also has in place several programs that provide housing renovations and neighborhood beautification. One is the annual BlockWork program, a volunteer effort to beautify various neighborhood blocks chosen from a nomination process. In 2014, the program worked to improve the appearance of nine properties owned by Livingstone College on West Monroe St. In 2016, BlockWork returned to tackle the 800 and 900 blocks of West Monroe St.
Additionally, the city’s Housing Rehabilitation Assistance Program was piloted in 2018 in the West End to revitalize single-family housing units with exterior home repairs in owner-occupied and rental properties. Assistance is provided in the form of a forgivable, deferred loan. Salisbury Community Development Director Chanaka Yatawara said during a meeting in 2020 that 19 homes were rehabilitated during the 2018-19 fiscal year, 10 homes in the 2019-20 fiscal year and four homes during the 2020-21 fiscal year. Those rehabilitations amount to $612,538. The four improvements made in the 2020-21 fiscal year are houses in the 300 block of South Craige Street, the 400 block of Grim Street, Old Wilkesboro Road and Forney Street.
Other properties on the list for potential demolition this fiscal year include:
• 918 and 1300 North Main St., which both sit in historic districts and were subject to a year-long Historic Preservation Commission delay and subsequent 90-day delay.
• 305 E. Fisher St., which is also in a historic district with an extension that expires in September.
• 120 E. Monroe St.
• 1716 N. Lee St.
• 209 W. Marsh St.
• 405 Bringle Ferry Road
• 610 Park Ave., which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
• 420 S. Jackson St., which is also in a historic district.
• 907 Newsome Road
Additionally, though City Council approved the demolition of 720 and 728 S. Jackson St. on June 1, 90-day extensions were granted and are set to expire on Sept. 29.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.