A former gathering place popular with college students and others in the community is among the structures eyed for demolition in Montgomery.

Benny's Bar & Grill, located at 808 Third Avenue, has begun to fall into disrepair since it was closed, and it is among the structures Mayor Greg Ingram says are targeted for demolition.

Montgomery will utilize state, federal and Kanawha County Commission funds for the demolition, which will be a two-phase process.

In Phase 1, most of the property has been donated to the town by the owners, although a couple parcels were purchased for a "minimal amount," Ingram said.

Two "hazards," the Top Hat building on Fourth Ave. and the Odd Fellows building on Ferry Street, are up first, and they "may come down in short order," he said. Others in the initial phase include Benny's and an old Tech fraternity building beside it, a former taxi stand beside the Odd Fellows site, a boarded-up house on Third Ave., a house at 812 Fourth Ave., and the old WMON radio station.

Phase 2 is expected to include the orange house near the Earl M. Vickers Memorial Bridge, large structures on Ferry Street, Fourth Avenue and Third Avenue, a house on Gaines Street, and several others that "have been identified as a danger, blight and eyesore to our community."

"We're working with trying to get these dilapidated buildings torn down," said Brian Whittington, the joint code enforcement officer for Montgomery and Smithers. "They do attract vagrants, so we're really trying to prevent that throughout both cities, Smithers and Montgomery.

"Hopefully within the next month, you'll start to see us tear down some buildings here ... and seeing a big improvement in both cities."

Anyone who wants to discuss a structure in Montgomery or Smithers in need of attention can call Whittington. "Feel free to call (either town hall)," he said. "If you have a concern, I'll be more than happy to come out and investigate it. If we can help, I'd be more than happy to help."

Condemning older buildings that need removed for safety or aesthetic reasons would be made easier if Montgomery's home rule application moves forward and is accepted. "Right now, we go through a long, drawn-out process," Whittington said. "It's not something that happens overnight."

A public hearing to discuss Montgomery's home rule application is set for Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at town hall. That hearing was originally planned for early September, but it was changed Monday.

Ingram praised Whittington's work in the short time he's been on the code enforcement job. "He's the one that worked on all these building projects," said Ingram. The mayor indicated that work on building demolition was already "in the mix, but when he came on board I handed them to him.

"Brian has done an outstanding job cleaning up trash, grass, placing liens on properties and getting rid of general eyesores," said Ingram. Whittington is working hand-in-hand with the town's street department.

In addition to planning to eliminate several buildings that have outlived their usefulness, another current project will be geared toward abandoned vehicles, including those at a car dealership in town.

Officials will place stickers on the vehicles, and if the vehicle isn't picked up by the owner, it will be towed by a local company for storage for a designated period. The vehicles can still be redeemed by their owners during that period. If not, the wrecker company can sell them and keep the proceeds to recoup towing and storage fees, Ingram said.

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Among the structures being targeted for demolition in Smithers is what's left of the former Oakland School.

The first part of the Oakland School building dates back to the early 1900s, said Mayor Anne Cavalier. A later addition of classrooms and a gymnasium occurred in the early-to-mid-1950s. The original portion of the building burned in the 1970s, but the addition and gym currently remain standing.

For many years, the addition was used for storage and the gym for community activities. Earlier this decade, the demise of the gym began "from a combination of vandalism and weather getting in through broken windows and a failing roof." Heavy rains in 2016 "rendered it beyond repair."

Cavalier says a request has been made that the classroom addition and gym be included in the State’s RISE/Slum and Blight program for demolition.

In order to have "a clean, safe and attractive community," Cavalier said council adopted the International Property Management Code and began to work jointly with Montgomery on code enforcement. Since July 1, 2018, officials have worked with private property owners to demolish seven of the eight most dilapidated, vacant structures in town, she noted. Three of these properties were donated to Smithers by private owners, and demolition occurred with funding granted by the Fayette County Commission. The plan is to sell the now-vacant lots at a publicly-announced sale and to use the resulting funds for more improvements.

Four of the structures were demolished at the owners’ expense.

Smithers is utilizing IPMC regulations, work by code enforcement officer Brian Whittington, and various ordinances on the books to address other dilapidated, vacant properties, illegal dumps, abandoned cars and overgrown properties.

In addition, the River Cities (Smithers and Montgomery) have a project funded by a grant awarded through the Fayette County Commission’s planning department that will allow the completion of two key projects.

"First, we are able to hire a company to do an environmental assessment of vacant buildings with the goal of providing sellers and potential buyers an accurate assessment of the need and cost of asbestos removal," said Cavalier. "This information will give both a better idea of a fair market value of the properties.

"Secondly, these funds allow us to work with the selected consultant, Downstream Strategies, to evaluate and recommend the best future reuse of those buildings and land."

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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