Dilapidated housing worries Boykins mayor

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 11, 2007

COURTLAND—Dilapidated houses are impacting the quality of life for Boykins residents, and town officials are looking for help with the matter.

Addressing Southampton’s Board of Supervisors during a recent meeting, Boykins Mayor Spier Edwards said a continuing problem with blighted buildings along the town’s Railroad Avenue had prompted his request for the county’s help.

Pleading with owners to improve or demolish the run-down structures has not been fruitful, he said, and the town has neither an ordinance nor an inspector in place to enforce Virginia’s building maintenance code.

Edwards said the Town Council would be willing to adopt the maintenance code if there were someone in place to enforce it. He asked supervisors to provide that Property Maintenance and Housing Inspector from the county’s Office of Community Development, which currently is in charge of duties ranging from issuing permits to erosion and sediment control, from subdivision plat review to zoning administration and enforcement.

That workload, along with the fact that there are only four people in the department, lead County Administrator Michael Johnson to warn supervisors of the &uot;enormous impact on staff&uot; that enforcing the optional building maintenance code would have.

Southampton currently provides construction inspection services for new construction and rehabilitation of buildings throughout the county, including within the town limits of Boykins and its other five towns.

The state does not require enforcement of the regulations within its building maintenance code, Johnson said, and that code has never been adopted within the county or any of its towns.

He and some supervisors, though sympathetic to the town’s plight, warned of the potentially wide-ranging ramifications of setting a precedent by agreeing to enforce the code in Boykins.

&uot;Of the 95 Virginia counties,&uot; Johnson said, &uot;there are few counties that provide this service. And there’s a reason why.&uot;

Indeed, the problem with dilapidated structures is widespread in Southampton County, and Johnson said he was concerned that performing Boykins’ maintenance inspections would lead to similar requests from the other towns.

Blighted properties are &uot;certainly a county-wide problem,&uot; commented Berlin-Ivor District Supervisor Ronald M. West, adding that dealing with such properties is an admirable goal.

&uot;Homeowner pride is what you’re talking about,&uot; he said.

Mayor Edwards pointed out that the town’s pride and the impression it gives visitors are also at stake.

&uot;It’s very important to address this issue now, before it’s too late,&uot; he said. &uot;The first impression you see when you enter a town is everlasting.&uot;

Though the board as a whole seemed unwilling to commit the resources that would be needed to begin enforcing the maintenance standards, at least on supervisor was sympathetic to the problem Boykins faces.

&uot;I think we need somebody on staff that is certified to do this work,&uot; Newsoms District Supervisor Walt Brown said. &uot;We need to bite the bullet if we want to keep this county beautiful and we want to keep this county clean.&uot;

Board members suggested that Edwards work with County Attorney Richard Railey to see if there are other ways the town could force owners to improve their dilapidated properties.

They also suggested that town leaders check into the possibility of hiring a certified inspector from another locality to provide the service they seek.

Edwards said he would talk with the mayors of Southampton’s other towns to determine whether they have similar problems and whether they would support a unified effort to get the county to provide the inspector.