Commission president Kristie Tenney and commissioner Terry Cutright discuss the Holly Apartments property in Adrian at their Aug. 25 meeting. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

County begins process to take unsafe, dilapidated Holly Apartments property by eminent domain

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Commission on Thursday voted to utilize eminent domain to demolish the Holly Apartments.

Upshur County Administrator Tabatha Perry brought forth a case from the county’s Safe Structures and Sites Enforcement Board regarding the Holly Apartments in Adrian during the Aug. 25 Upshur County Commission meeting. The property includes seven parcels in the Meade Tax District.

“This particular case is different than most. The property is the Holly Apartments, and it is part of an unclosed estate, which the executor of the estate has been unwilling to take steps to clean up the property,” Perry said. “The remnants of the building have been untouched since the structure fire in May 2021 and we’ve received numerous calls from concerned residents pertaining to the safety of the property. At this point, cleaning up the property is detrimental and after discussing it with legal counsel, it’s recommended for the commission to take steps to have the property condemned and exercise the power of eminent domain.”

Eminent domain is the power of governmental entities to take private property in certain limited cases, provided the property owner is fairly compensated.

Kristie Tenney, president of the Upshur County Commission, asked Perry what would happen after the building was condemned.

“At this point, I am just requesting authorization to move forward with condemning the property, which as you are aware, has not been done to date,” Perry said. “That process would take place through the prosecuting attorney’s office and would then be filed as a case in (Upshur County) Circuit Court with all the heirs as respondents.”

Upshur County Commissioner Terry Cutright asked if the executor wanted anything to do with the property, and Perry said he did not. Cutright asked if one of the commissioners should talk to the executor and see if he would simply sign the property over to the commission.

“I do not believe he can; he knows of a church that he would like to give the property to and then they would demolish the building with grant funds is what I’m being told,” Perry said. “However, he doesn’t have the authority to just sign the property over because it’s an unclosed estate. The deceased is from 2008 – that’s how long the estate has been open – and there are several unpaid claims with the estate and several other properties also involved; it’s not just this property.”

The commission’s Aug. 25 meeting packet includes a July 18, 2022, letter written by county property compliance officer Greg Harris to the executor of the estate, John Harmon George, informing him that the Safe Structures and Sites Enforcement Board is seeking an order from the county commission requiring him to correct numerous health and safety hazards; dispose of household waste and other garbage, including junk vehicles and tires; and tear down/clean up the property. A property owner has 20 days from the receipt of the letter to request a hearing with the county clerk or the commission issues an order requiring cleanup to be completed, according to Harris’s letter.

Upshur County Clerk Carol Smith said there is also a problem because the executor of the estate only owns three-quarters interest, as opposed to full interest, and another heir owns one-quarter interest on the seven parcels of property. Perry said the individual who owns the other quarter interest is currently incarcerated.

Tenney asked if they would only be condemning the Holly Apartments.

“Yes, it’s my understanding that you condemn the property, and this would go to Circuit Court and then the commission would be able to purchase the property at fair market value, demolish the building and then either utilize the property for public use or sell the property,” Perry said.

Upshur County Commissioner Sam Nolte said he tries to err on the side of caution and follow advice from their legal counsel. Perry also told the commissioners the structure could become a liability if it isn’t razed.

“Several options have been looked at; however, [Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Hinkle] thinks this is the most viable option to get the property cleaned up,” Perry said. “It’s not like this property just has an accumulation of debris; that property is unsafe. I drove by the other day, and it looks like part of the roof is missing, and if someone goes in the building, it could collapse. You’ve also received several concerns from volunteer fire departments. I’ve asked Mr. George if he had any plans on demolishing himself and he does not.”

Nolte made the motion to follow the advice of legal counsel and Cutright seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

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