A new emphasis on keeping Hagerstown houses in good condition brought a woman to Town Council where she found temporary relief.

Building Commissioner Terry Ford told the council that he had sent letters to owners of unsafe or unsightly properties. He gave the owners 30 days to respond by fixing the problems or explain their plans for the property. 

One owner came to the council on March 4 with her written response about a vacant house next to her family’s house. Ford had cited the vacant property for rotten floors.

She said her family bought the vacant house in 2019, hoping to demolish it and expand their property onto that lot, the woman said. Then, she said, a contractor estimated demolition would cost more than $100,000 because the house contains asbestos that is considered a hazardous material. It must be removed and disposed of properly. They don’t have that kind of money and are still paying on a loan they used to buy the property. She said they keep the lot clean and have locked the doors and windows. 

The house had been identified as blighted in 2016 when the town used state Blight Elimination Program grants to tear down several structures, Chris LaMar, town manager, said. Program funding ran out before this house could be demolished.

Council members, led by Allan Bullock and Fred Dill, asked if a new funding program being developed by the Economic Development Corp. of Wayne County could be used to tear it down. LaMar said that program will probably cover only one or two buildings in town, and the town has identified properties with more issues than this one.

Wayne County asked EDC to manage $780,000 for blight elimination from the Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program. Local towns were asked to add some of their own economic development money to state HELP funds allocated to the county. Hagerstown did not contribute. Towns that did contribute will receive more funding in return.

Council member Brian Longbons suggested that the town could consider using some of its own economic development fund for blight elimination. Clerk-Treasurer Julie Neal reported about $180,000 in that fund.

The town will take no further action against the owner’s property until they figure out if the town can help with demolition, council members said.

Town Council helped a private property owner with demolition in 2019. The owner could not afford to repair a 173-year-old business building where black mold growing in the walls and asbestos materials were among concerns. The town accepted the property from the owner and demolished it. A grass lot is there now.

Ford said that when he became building commissioner at the start of 2024, the town asked him to give increased attention to blighted properties. Two are of particular concern, he said. 

Sending “fix or respond” letters to the owners is the first step in getting problems resolved. He sent six such letters on Feb. 1. On Friday, March 8, Ford said four owners had responded so far.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 13 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.