Town wants to combat blight, adopts new code

Published 10:56 pm Friday, October 17, 2008

BOYKINS—Fed up with the amount of blight near Railroad Avenue, the Town Council here has adopted a statewide building maintenance code and appointed an official to enforce it.

“We needed to do something before the roofs fall in and the walls fall off,” said Mayor Spier Edwards. “The adoption of this code will help protect adjacent property owners to retain the value of their property.”

Edwards had previously lobbied last year, along with mayors from Southampton County’s five other towns, for the Board of Supervisors to begin enforcing the maintenance portion of Virginia’s Uniform Building Code.

Edwards and his associates from Branchville, Capron, Courtland, Ivor and Newsoms agreed that dealing with blighted buildings is an essential first step toward restoring the towns’ economic vitality.

But, in April, supervisors shot down the idea, citing costs as the major factor.

The move would have had a first-year pricetag of about $93,000.

“I don’t think it’s something we can afford to do right now,” Boykins District Supervisor Carl J. Faison said at the time.

The new building official is Mark Mathias, the husband of Councilwoman Rhonda Mathias, Edwards said.

As the property maintenance and housing inspector, Mathias would have the power to press charges against recalcitrant owners, prodding them into making needed improvements. Some examples of violations include broken down vehicles, cracked windows, extremely high grass and caved-in roofs.

“When the officer sees a violation or hears a complaint, then he can act on it,” Edwards said. “We’re not trying to nitpick. The most serious violations are being targeted.”

The first step after spotting a violation or hearing a complaint will be to send a letter to the property owner.

“It gives them ‘x’ amount of days,” Edwards said. “If they don’t correct the problem, we can put a lien on the property.”

Edwards said he has already sent out about 60 letters himself.

Edwards said Mathias, a plumber and contractor by trade, is finishing his schooling for the position and still needs to take a test to become a certified inspector.

The mayor said he envisions the position being part-time. He said compensation hasn’t been worked out yet.

“Mr. Mathias will be used on an ‘as needed basis’ and we hope he will be able to help other towns if they decide to adopt the same ordinance.”

So far, Boykins is the only town in Southampton County or Southampton County itself which has adopted the code.