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Anti-Blight Bill Advances in Va. Senate

The Times-Dispatch
February 23, 2009
By Jim Nolan

A bill that would give local governments more authority to take action against abandoned and blighted buildings cleared a Senate committee today by a vote of 8-6.

Sponsored by Sen. Mamie E. Locke, D-Hampton, Senate Bill 1094 effectively would let localities consider such buildings a danger to public safety if they are vacant, boarded up and not connected to utilities, such as electric, water or sewer for more than six months.

The bill also offers tax incentives and expedited application and permitting to property owners who agree to renovate or repair the structures, as well as refunds for permits and fees associated with timely demolition of such structures.

The legislation would also allow localities to sell off tax-delinquent blighted property that is worth less than $100,000 when taxes have not been paid for more than one year; current law only allows localities to act on properties in which taxes are two years delinquent.

The legislation had the support of the Virginia Housing Commission. But lawyers for private property owners strenuously objected to the changes encompassed by the legislation.

"This takes an axe to private property rights," said Stephen J. Clarke, an attorney for the Norfolk firm of Waldo & Lyle. "It's an end run around eminent domain."

The bill now heads to the full Senate.