Derelict properties still on town’s radar & under county review

by Geoff Fox

The owner of 136 and 134 West Main Street and an associate raised concern over the condition of 144 West Main Street and fear if the side of the building were to fall and collapse, there’s a chance it could fall onto the neighboring building.

A property owner along Main Street raised concern during the February town meeting regarding derelict buildings and dangerous buildings in Hancock.

Jackie Daley, who owns 53 West Main Street, said there had been things happening with some of the dangerous buildings in town. She was hoping to get an update from the town about their previous commitment to addressing dilapidated properties.

Town Manager Mike Faith said he met with the person in charge of inspections and permits in Washington County, who has jurisdiction over hazardous properties.

Faith showed him the properties that the town considered posing a health hazard to residents.

“They can’t address cosmetics, but they can address safety issues,” Faith said.

Pictures were taken and letters issued, Faith added.

Ultimately, he said, if the property owners don’t bring their properties to a standard above a public health hazard, the county could fine the owner up to $1,000 a day.

Faith said one owner had received a letter about a year ago with a year to address the issue of their building. However, Faith said the owner has given reasons why they haven’t been able to do anything with their property.

People have to have time to address issues and Faith was told the county would be diligent on making sure issues are taken care of.

If a property owner is given 30 days and the court date is past that 30 days, Faith said the way it was explained, the fine would start on day 31, no matter when the court date falls.

Faith added if the fines accrue and are not satisfied, there could be a tax remedy or an opportunity to buy the property.

Mayor Roland Lanehart, Jr. said some buildings need attention “yesterday.”

One of the main buildings Daley and Faith pointed toward as needing attention was 144 West Main Street.

An upstairs wall has caved in and Daley said if it comes down, it would take the building beside it as well. She said the wall is bowing out as well.

During a presentation to town officials, Bruno Reich, who owns the building next to 144 West Main Street, noted the same issues.

The front of 144 West Main Street in Hancock.

While walking in the space between the two buildings, Reich noticed the wall was starting to crumble along with another crack.

“It won’t be long before that whole wall is falling onto my property,” he said.

Reich owns a construction business and noted the wall could be fixed and rebuilt.

“It would be a shame to lose that building,” he said.

Faith said if the building were to be torn down, it wouldn’t be grandfathered in under current zoning. It couldn’t be rebuilt under modern zoning rules because it is in a flood plain.

Later in the meeting, Sinclair Hamilton, in giving his reports for the Arts Council and Canal Towns told town officials about a project Brunswick is doing to take care of their derelict properties.

Hamilton said the mayor of Brunswick told the Canal Towns members about a grant from the State of Maryland, attached to a “good chunk of change,” to purchase derelict buildings in the town and t bring them up to code. The building would then be sold cheaply to business people.

Hamilton said there was probably an agreement on having a business in the building within a certain amount of time when the sale was complete.

“They were able to do this with grant money. They lost nothing,” Hamilton said.

Baltimore is doing a similar thing, he added.

With some of the derelict buildings in Hancock having apartments, rehabilitation efforts would allow for more people to move into town. That could mean more students being enrolled in the schools.

Hamilton said he could investigate and get some specifics on how the towns had pursued their efforts. Faith said he’d also give the Brunswick mayor a call.

Daley said Cumberland has also done a few things in regards to derelict buildings with success in their program.

She and Bruno Reich, who is looking to purchase additional properties at 319 and 317 East Main Street, said they spoke to the Cumberland City Planner. They said the official told them the city did something similar in buying the building and charging the owner for the demolition.

Cumberland officials also give owners the option to donate a building to the city.

“I went to Cumberland after two years. I couldn’t believe the difference,” Daley said.

Daley said people would love the opportunity to stay in Hancock.

By getting rid of the derelict buildings, Daley said it would help keep the schools open.

Daley also told town officials she was “floored” at the money available for renovating buildings or starting up a business in an opportunity zone, which includes Hancock’s location.

“I think there’s funds out there that we might not be aware of that are hard to find,” she said.

Daley added she is going to be working on setting up a workshop for finding those funds.