Demolition by Neglect in West Virginia: A Policy Analysis of a Historic Preservation Scourge in The Mountain State

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Preservationists in West Virginia consider demolition by neglect the leading threat facing historic structures in the state. Demolition by neglect is the gradual destruction of historic resources through abandonment or lack of maintenance. Demolition by neglect is particularly challenging for authorities in West Virginia, where as many as 1 in 16 properties are vacant or abandoned. Neglected properties deter economic development, increase crime, create safety hazards, lower property values, and reduce public tax rolls. This paper assesses the efficacy of laws and policies in West Virginia to mitigate loss of historic resources to demolition by neglect. This process of comparative analysis utilized a review of best practices as outlined in the professional and academic literature. This research also evaluated real world examples of laws and policies from other states and jurisdictions. The research finds West Virginia enabling legislation lacks the necessary prescriptive language to convey authority to municipalities to enact effective ordinances against demolition by neglect. The research also finds state law and local ordinances inadequately promote incentives to make expanded affirmative maintenance requirements more palatable. However, expansion of home rule authority in West Virginia may provide communities greater autonomy to address local preservation. In light of these findings, the author presents recommendations.


Historic Preservation Final Project