Many citizens have expressed concern to the Cape Charles Mirror regarding several dilapidated, ill-kempt properties that exist in Town. Of particular concern, was the belief that the town was powerless to do much about it. In terms of the Historic District Overlay, that is a question well worth exploring. As a point of reference, we might begin by using the Duplex at 545-549 Monroe Ave. As is indicated in the photos, the property is listed as uninhabitable, has quite a bit of structural rot, as well as broken windows and a completely open door to the elements on the second floor.
What can the Town do? According to Planner Larry DiRe, by way of context, the remedies do exist, particularly in Article VIII of the zoning ordinance, sections 8.21, 8.22, and 8.23. In the Town Code it is addressed in Chapter 18 (Buildings and Building Regulation) Article III Sections 18-20 to 18-25. For reference, will we list the most of the code referenced, however, it appears Section C of 8.23 Maintenance and Repair Required, may provide an interesting option — the Town goes in and makes the repairs, and then places a lien on the property until they get paid back for their efforts.
C. After notice by the Historic District Review Board by certified mail of specific instances of failure to maintain or repair and of an opportunity to appear before the Historic District Review Board, the owner or person in charge of said structure shall have 90 days to remedy such violation. Thereafter, each day during which there exists any violation of this section shall constitute a separate offense and shall be punishable as provided in this ordinance. In the alternative, if the owner fails to act, the Historic District Review Board may recommend to the Town Council that the Town Administrator, after due notice to the owner, enter the property and make or cause to be made such repairs as are necessary to preserve the integrity and safety of the structure and the reasonable costs thereof shall be placed as a lien against the property or, in a proper hardship case as determined by the Town Council, paid by the Town from a fund established for such purposes.
This may be wishful thinking, but it is path, via ordinance (even if the Town has to add the necessary teeth) that could help save some of our most valuable historic structures, especially one such as the gem at 545-549 Monroe Ave.
Full references from the ordinance, listed below:
ARTICLE III. – UNSAFE BUILDINGS OR STRUCTURES
This article shall apply to all buildings and structures which are determined to be unsafe under the terms of this article or under the terms of the code, regardless of when such structures were erected. In such cases, the code official appointed pursuant to this chapter, in his sole discretion, may choose to enforce the provisions of this article or the applicable provisions of the code, as may be appropriate. However, regardless of which enforcement provisions are utilized, the notice provisions contained in section 18-21 shall apply.
Whenever the code official shall find any building or structure or portion thereof to be unsafe, he shall give the owner, agent or person in control of such building or structure written notice via certified or registered mail, return receipt requested, stating the defects thereof. This notice shall require the owner, within the stated time, either to complete specified repairs or improvements or to demolish or remove the building or immediately declare to the code official his acceptance or rejection of the terms of the order. In the event no such person can be found within the town, such notice shall be sent by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, to the owner of such real estate, as shown on the town tax records, or in the event the property is not assessed for taxation, to the last known address of the owner, agent or person in control of such building or structure, and a copy of such notice shall be deemed the equivalent of personal notice. If the identity or location of one or more persons having or appearing to have an ownership interest in the building, wall or other structure cannot be determined, then notice may be given through publication of same once a week for two successive weeks in a newspaper having general circulation in the town. No action shall be taken by the town to remove, repair or secure any buildings, wall or other structure for at least 30 days following the latter of the return of the mailing receipt or newspaper publication.
If necessary, such notice shall also require the building, structure or portion thereof to be vacated forthwith and not re-occupied until the specified repairs and improvements are completed, inspected and improved by the code official. The code official shall cause to be posted at each entrance to such building a notice as follows:
“This building is unsafe, and its use or occupancy has been prohibited by the Town Building Code Official.”
Such notice shall remain posted until the required repairs are made or demolition is completed. It shall be unlawful for any person, or his agents or other servants, to remove such notice without written permission of the code official or for any person to enter the building, except for the purpose of making the required repairs or demolishing the same.
(Ord. of 3-9-99)
Sec. 18-22. – Appeals from decisions of the building code official or zoning administrator.
The owner, agent or person in control cited pursuant to this article shall have the right, except in cases of emergencies, to appeal from the decision of the code official under this article as provided hereinafter, and to appear before the building code board of appeals at a specified time and place to show cause why he or she could not comply with such notice. Such appeal shall be made within 30 days of such notice by notification to the code official in writing.
(Ord. of 3-9-99)
Sec. 18-23. – Action by town upon failure of owner, etc. to comply with notice.
In the case owner, agent or person in control of a building or structure cited pursuant to this article cannot be found within the stated time limit, or if such owner, agent or person in control shall fail, neglect or refuse to comply with the notice to repair, rehabilitate or demolish and remove such building or structure or portion thereof, the code official after having ascertained the cost, shall cause such building or structure, or portion thereof, to be demolished, secured or required to remain vacant.
(Ord. of 3-9-99)
Sec. 18-24. – Emergency procedures by code official.
The decision of the code official shall be final in cases of emergency which, in his opinion, involve imminent danger to human life or health. He shall promptly cause such building, structure or portion thereof to be made safe or removed. For this purpose, he may at once enter such structure or the land on which it stands, or abutting land or structure, with such assistance and at such cost as he may deem advisable. He may vacate adjacent structures and protect the public by an appropriate fence or such other means as may be necessary, and for this purpose may close a public or private way.
(Ord. of 3-9-99)
Sec. 18-25. – Owner to bear costs of enforcement; lien.
Any costs or expenses in connection with the enforcement of this article shall be the responsibility of the owner of such real estate, and any portion thereof which shall be billed to such owner and which remains unpaid after having been billed for 30 days shall constitute a lien against such real estate on parity with the lien for unpaid real estate taxes, and shall be collected by the town in the same manner as real estate taxes are collected. A bill mailed to the last mailing address of the owner shall constitute billing for the purpose of this action.
(Ord. No. 3-9-99)
While the code offers some solutions, most regard rehabilitation by owner as the optimal solution, especially as it relates to the historic preservation of Cape Charles. Of note, the number of derelict homes has been in steady decline, however there are still a few gems that need attention before water and environmental damage becomes prohibitive. Also, renovating after severe neglect may require replacing (losing) the historical craftsmanship that just can not be duplicated. While the Historic District Review Board works very hard to retain the historic integrity, ill-advised alterations are very hard to control.