Hillsboro city officials were given the go-ahead Friday to begin the process of tearing down an abandoned house in the 200 block of West Walnut Street, addressing the first of several “nuisance” properties in town that city leaders hope to clean up or demolish in the coming months.
Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss on Friday granted the city’s request to abate the nuisance in accordance with Ohio Revised Code section 3767.41.
Fred Beery, the city law director, has been working with mayor Drew Hastings and council members to more aggressively tackle blighted or abandoned properties through a statute that permits appointment of a receivership to deal with such properties.
Prior to the hearing, Beery said attempts had been made to contact the property owner or relatives to demand that the house be repaired or otherwise address its nuisance factors within 90 days. One relative responded and indicated no interest in opposing the city’s move, said Beery. He said the property, located at 264 W. Walnut St., has been abandoned “for years.”
Beery said public notices had been published advertising the city’s intention. The Highland County Treasurer’s office was also named as a defendant since taxes are owed on the property. No one from the treasurer’s office opposed the city’s motion.
The judge questioned Beery about whether there were mortgages or liens on the property.
“Not that we know of,” Beery replied.
Beery said a neighbor had expressed some interest in attempting to restore the property, and the law director said he expected the man to be present at Friday’s hearing, but he was not. Beery said that in his opinion the structure was “not restorable.”
Coss granted the city’s motion, and at Beery’s request designated Hastings as the receiver in his capacity as mayor. The judge gave the city 30 days to present a plan for disposition of the property, adding that if the court finds the proposal “satisfactory,” the city can proceed with demolition.
The state statute defines a public nuisance as “a building that is a menace to the public health, welfare, or safety; that is structurally unsafe, unsanitary, or not provided with adequate safe egress; that constitutes a fire hazard, is otherwise dangerous to human life, or is otherwise no longer fit and habitable; or that, in relation to its existing use, constitutes a hazard to the public health, welfare, or safety by reason of inadequate maintenance, dilapidation, obsolescence, or abandonment.”
The law adds that “if the judge determines… that any party who is undertaking corrective work pursuant to this division cannot or will not proceed, or has not proceeded with due diligence, the judge may appoint a receiver… to take possession and control of the building.” Such a receiver must demonstrate the financial ability to abate the nuisance, according to the statute.
At February’s city council meeting, Hastings had urged council to “put pressure on” the law director to more quickly seek approval to tear down blighted properties in the city, with the mayor saying that despite money being allocated, “we’ve not managed to get one building down.”
But Beery had recently represented Lynchburg in a similar hearing in regard to a nuisance property, resulting in village officials demolishing that structure following court approval. Beery said Friday’s hearing would serve as a “template” for Hillsboro officials to tackle additional properties in the city deemed to be nuisances.
Council member Ann Morris and city code enforcement officer Phil Lutton were present for Friday’s hearing.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at [email protected].