West Deer OKs 5 demolitions

| Thursday, July 18, 2013, 1:16 a.m.

Nicole Walters of West Deer refused to be denied in seeking demolition of a deteriorated house next to hers.

On Wednesday night, she wasn't.

The township supervisors, in a 4-3 split vote, agreed to tear down the dilapidated vacant structure at 463 Sycamore St. — as well as those at 99 Orchard St., 1132 Eisenhower Drive, 4687 Gibsonia Road and 21 Golden Lane.

It signaled the end of a campaign by Walters and her husband, Tyler, after they moved in to 463 Sycamore in 2011, to get the township to act on the badly blighted property.

Their efforts followed years of similar efforts by others in the Curtisville neighborhood that did not succeed.

Walters explored every avenue she could think of and took her campaign to the streets, circulating a petition door-to-door that 100 of her neighbors purportedly signed.

“I'm really happy,” Walters said. “I do support the housing committee, but these houses did not fit that description.”

The description she referred to was that of abandoned, deteriorating houses that could be reclaimed and kept on the tax rolls.

That is a primary mission of the township's recently formed housing committee, comprised of Supervisors Gerry Vaerewyck, Larry McManus and Rick Florentine.

The last known owners of the house at 463 Sycamore, which was built in 1910, are deceased. The real estate taxes have gone unpaid for years and total about $40,000.

Walters said the structure has holes in the walls, apparent water damage to the ceilings that are falling apart, a back porch that is collapsing, dead animals inside as well as live raccoons, broken windows, mold, and urine-fouled floors littered with trash and animal waste. In addition, the property is overgrown with vegetation.

She said in the short time they have lived there, they have put $9,000 into their home but feared the neighboring house has adversely affected their property's value and will continue to do so if something isn't done.

Vaerewyck countered by saying he sits on the board of directors for a local Habitat for Humanity group, a charity that builds and reconditions houses for people who cannot otherwise afford to buy one.

“I can assure you I have seen deplorable houses like this that have been put back into shape,” he said. “The property values would be much better if those properties were cleaned up and restored.”

But Gary Bogan, the township's code enforcement officer, said that's not the case with 463 Sycamore.

He said if the township tried to fix it up, it would be throwing good money after bad because the deterioration is so severe.

“We've got our residents living next to these things and they are hazards,” Bogan said.

Bill Sciolla of Orchard Street challenged Vaere-wyck's contention that demolishing the structures and leaving empty lots would cost the township tax dollars.

“How are you going to lose money when there's nobody paying taxes on it now?” Sciolla said. “Nobody's going to buy that house and you know it, so don't give me any of that.”

Supervisor Tracy Adamik asked if the Walters want to acquire the property next to them and Nicole Walters said they would. He then asked why they haven't done that by simply paying the back taxes on it and demolishing it themselves.

When she said her family cannot afford to do that, Adamik indicated they were looking a free ride from the township.

Walters asked why would they incur that expense when the township has $18,000 in Community Development Block Grant money and township funds allocated specifically for demolition.

Once the structure is demolished, she said they intend to try acquiring it through a “conservatorship,” which allows taxes on an abandoned property to be forgiven if the owners are dead or cannot be found and a neighbor wants to acquire it.

When the vote was taken to proceed with the demolitions, Vaerewyck, McManus and Adamik opposed it.

Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey Fleming said, “I went and looked at the house and my vote was on the safety factor.”

Fleming commended the housing committee for the work it has been doing, saying the members have been diligent in trying to locate absentee land owners or their family members. He said the work they are doing is in the best interests of the township.Supervisor Richard DiSanti Jr. also said his vote was not a contradiction of the work the committee is doing.

In fact, in his committee report, Vaerewyck said that the housing committee has been successful in locating the owners or heirs of three properties that are abandoned and are talking to them.

As for the next step in the demolition process, township engineer Scott Shoup will prepare bid specifications and advertise the demolition project, which will be under two contracts.

He said the procedure would take about 45 days.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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