~ PVN staff report
LURAY, Aug. 8 — On Monday night, the Luray Council continued its discussion of how to address “blighted properties and derelict buildings” within town limits.
“I think it’s a good thing we’re doing it,” Councilman Jerry Schiro said. “I just want people to know it’s not as clean cut as some think it is.”
After receiving some feedback following previous discussions on the issue, council members wanted residents to know that the proposed code amendment is “not a property maintenance code” that simply tells residents that they need to paint or mow their grass. The focus will be on buildings that have been vacated for at least six months with no utilities.
“This only applies to vacant properties,” Town Manager Steve Burke stressed to council members. “So, we’re not looking to displace anyone.”
The council still needs to set criteria by which properties will be identified as “blighted.” Under the proposal, Town staff will make initial determinations as to whether a property meets those criteria and then present qualifying properties to the council for consideration. If the council concurs that the property is “blighted” and needs to be addressed, they can then direct staff to notify the property owner that they have 90 days to submit an abatement plan to the Town. The plan should be specific on how and when the owner will improve the property.
If the terms of the plan are deemed unacceptable by the Town (or no plan is submitted), “code would then allow the council to develop what we deem to be the appropriate response,” according to the town manager.
Those options would include demolition of derelict buildings, with the ability to recoup costs through leins on the property.
However, if an owner does improve the property, the Town will offer a tax abatement (or credit) for the next 15 years as an incentive. The tax abatement deals with the valuation of the property used for assessing real estate taxes — therefore, if the value of the property improves, the property owner could be taxed at the lower valuation for a period of 15 years. That tax benefit would convey, and it could potentially encourage the owner to sell.
Currently, the Town finance office is still looking into software able to track the process. Mayor Jerry Dofflemyer has asked the town manager to put together a report using several properties as examples, to show potential demolition costs and what may be lost in tax revenue over 15 years. The Town attorney has reviewed several questions regarding the implementation of such code amendments, including the state requirement for a period of 15 years for real estate abatement for response costs.
While there is a consensus on the council that “something need to be done” and “it’s long overdue,” Monday’s discussion illustrated that a few details still need to be worked out as the Town moves toward giving itself a few tools to clean up “blighted” properties.
Council is expected to continue discussion of the issue at its work session later this month.
In other business at its Aug. 8 meeting, the Luray Council took the following actions:
• Heard a report from Jackie Elliott, program director for the Luray Downtown Initiative, that the Remote Work Pilot Committee will meet at 11 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 12; LDI is sponsoring Movies on Main with a showing of “Dolphin’s Tale” Tuesday evening at Page Theaters; LDI kicking off its cookbook fundraiser; and preparation for the third annual Sunflower Festival continues.
• Discussed the preliminary and final plat application received from Baker Development Partnership LLC for six parcels in the Luray Landing Planned Neighborhood Subdivision into 79 townhome lots — two parcels for 31 townhomes, and four parcels for 48 townhomes. Council also discussed the long-term plans for the subdivision with Rodney Jenkins.
• Unanimously approved the emergency procurement of a new dump vehicle for the Parks and Recreation Department with ARPA funds up to $85,000.
• Unanimously approved a retention initiative for the Public Works and the Parks and Recreation Department to provide a 3-percent salary increase. Council also adopted a Career Development Program for the Tradesman position to establish four distinct levels within the position that offers promotion for achievement of specific goals. Town Council also adopted an increase in Licensure Salary Adjustments for employees securing a commercial driver’s license.
• Received an invitation from Mayor Dofflemyer to attend the unveiling of the historic marker for the former Andrew Jackson School that occupied the West Luray Rec Center and educated black youth in Page County from the 1920s through the 1960s. The event, which also serves as an Open House to showcase what’s going on at the Rec Center, begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 13. Light refreshments will be served by volunteers and rec youth.
• Heard that the next joint meeting between the county’s three towns and county officials will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Stanley Fire Hall.
• Discussed participation in the parade for the Page Valley Agricultural and Industrial Fair in Downtown Luray on Monday, Aug. 22.