The town of Bridgeville has been moving through the process of condemning a number of vacant homes, many of them clustered in the north part of town.
The town is not knocking down homes that are messy or have minor code issues, Town Manager Bethany DeBussy clarified. Instead, it's dealing with homes that have visible structural damage and have often been vacant for years.
At a town meeting earlier this year, commissioners held hearings on four such properties, all in the North Bridgeville neighborhood near Phillis Wheatley Elementary School.
Owners or representatives of the owners showed up for only two of those properties. They were family members of the former residents, who were understandably not thrilled about the prospect of having the buildings demolished, but also worried about the cost of repairs, which for buildings in that condition would be significant. Although the town discussed options with those who did show up and gave them more time, all the houses involved ended up being condemned.
They did not appear to be borderline cases. A visit to the addresses found decrepit buildings with fire damage, holes in the roof, boards over the windows and in one case a large tree branch fallen onto the roof.
Like other municipalities, the town has an ordinance allowing it to order private property condemned. It's not as if commissioners are snooping around town looking for shabby buildings and then ordering them knocked down, though. The code sets out a process to follow: If they get complaints from residents, they can establish a committee to look into it. The police department handles inspection, DeBussy explained, because it also does code enforcement for the town. Part of the process is a public hearing, and if the building is found to be "a hazard to life and property," and owners are not correcting the issue, commissioners can then order it demolished, which they did in the recent cases.
The town then puts a lien on the property if the owners can't cover the cost of demolition.
It's expensive and a drain on staff resources, DeBussy said. "We're doing a batch of the ones that have been visibly deemed the most dangerous, or we've had the most police-related activity or those kinds of issues."
Some of the homes are properties that people inherited, DeBussy said. In one case, "we were trying to help them find some funding, because we know that it is a large expense." In the end, they couldn't find an option within the owners' price range.
"Unfortunately, after so many decades of something falling into disrepair, it becomes a massive expense to try to restore that," she said.