City Looks To Draft Ordinance For Blighted Properties

Robert Moore

Herald Staff

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The City of Harrodsburg is looking at creating a more systematic and fair way of handling blighted properties.

At their regular meeting on Monday, March 22, the board of commissioners discussed what to do with a property on Ewing Avenue.

Former city commissioner Jack Coleman attended to discuss the property. Coleman is now the city’s building inspector and also serves on the board of directors for the Mercer County chapter of Habitat For Humanity. Coleman said the initial plan was to deed the house to the city, but the original owner chose to deed it to Habitat For Humanity. He said the nonprofit needed to deed it to the city, who would tear it down, then deed it back to Habitat For Humanity. Harrodsburg Public Works Director Albert Moore said it would cost $3,000 to tear down the building.

As a city commissioner, Coleman was a driving force behind the formation of the city’s vacant and abandoned property task force. He said the two biggest issues facing Harrodsburg are vacant and abandoned properties and lack of affordable housing. Coleman said he had spoken with an attorney at the Kentucky League of Cities, who said there was no problem with the transfer.

Commissioner Billy Whitenack asked about the lien against the property, which is at least $20,000, versus the cost of demolishing the house. Whitenack objected to charging different prices for different houses.

Coleman said there are many abandoned and neglected houses in the pipeline. He said the city’s goal is to get rid of blighted properties and create low income housing opportunities. However, he said the nonprofit could only take care of two lots.

“From Habitat’s perspective, these two lots are all we can handle right now,” said Coleman. He said there are people willing to build low cost housing on other lots as they become available.

Commissioner Marvin “Bubby” Isham said the lots would have to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Whitenack said he didn’t feel comfortable doing it. He said if they did it for this homeowner, they would need to do it for everybody. Whitenack also said there are houses in worse shape than the one on Ewing that need to come down. He said they need to focus on what’s the most dangerous to the public.

“It’s not what’s worst,” Coleman said. “It’s what’s accessible. It’s what we can get a hold of.”

City Attorney David Taylor said in this case the city could move more quickly. In other cases where there is no clear title, Taylor said it could take years to move through the court system.

“We could wind up going four or five years before we got a deed on a property,” Taylor said.

“We’ve beaten this horse to death, what do you all want to do?” asked Mayor Art Freeman.

Commissioner Ruth Ann Bryant moved to proceed, but her motion died for lack of a second.

Isham asked about getting the deed from Habitat For Humanity. He said they couldn’t do this for individuals, only for nonprofit organizations, but Whitenack disagreed.

“I think you have to be fair across the board,” Whitenack said.

Isham said the city could sell the property in an auction.

“It doesn’t matter what we’ve got in it,” he said. “If we sell it in an auction it brings what it brings.”

Isham moved to draft an ordinance setting a specific amount for tearing down a house. Bryant seconded. Everyone voted to proceed except for Whitenack.

The city attorney will have to draft the ordinance. The commission will give it first reading at their next regular meeting in April.

The city commission took no other action on the Ewing Avenue property.

The next meeting of the Harrodsburg City Commission will be on Monday, April 12, at 6 p.m.

For the rest of the story, check out this week’s edition of the Harrodsburg Herald or subscribe to the online edition.

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