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Brackenridge gets tools to fight blight

| Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, 1:46 a.m.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
830 Eighth Ave., is one of five properties in Brackenridge that would immediately become part of a conservatoship program that Brackenridge officials are embracing as a new way to deal with blighted and abandoned properties in Brackenridge, on Friday, Aug. 2, 2013.

Brackenridge officials are hoping they have found a few new options to deal with blighted and abandoned properties.

Solicitor Craig Alexander outlined for council three methods available in the battle against blight.

They include:

• Filing a conservatorship action in Allegheny County Court through the state's Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act of 2008. The court would appoint a manager, likely the borough, who would be in charge of selling the property to someone to rehabilitate or demolish the building.

• Placing a lien on a property owner's personal assets or denying building or other permits under the Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act, also known as Act 90.

• Prosecuting owners criminally following four summary convictions for the same code enforcement infraction. The district attorney's office would need to approve the misdemeanor charge.

The options cover property that has been abandoned, for which an owner cannot be located, is in serious code violation or is deemed a public nuisance.

“It's always the last resort because you're putting taxpayer money into it,” Alexander said Friday. “You want to get the homeowners to correct their own problem first.”

Ultimately, the goal is to get the property back on the tax rolls, officials said.

Alexander said the conservatorship program replaces the lengthy method of filing a lien on the property, searching for the owner, then, after the condemnation process, forcing the municipality to wait for grants to raze the abandoned building.

Paul Valasek, a cofounder of the new Brackenridge Improvement Group, said council appears to be moving in the right direction to address a community concern.

“It seems like it was a concern for a lot of residents,” he said. “I think they're (council members) very aware and are finding ways to deal with it. It seems like they have a sincere plan in place.”

There are five properties in Brackenridge that would come under the program immediately, officials said, including a dilapidated structure at 830 Eighth Ave. that has been the subject of citizens' complaints.

A home on School Alley would be included, Alexander said. In that case the owners died and the borough is unable to locate the heirs.

Alexander said his next move is to meet with Highlands School District officials to see if the district will come on board with the new way of dealing with blighted properties where back taxes are owed.

Council said it will review the proposal before taking any action.

Alexander said the borough might have to put some money up front for properties, but would get its money back quicker than with the traditional method.

Other communities are also looking into conservatorship, including Verona, for which Alexander is solicitor.

In West Deer, a resident said she intends to use the Conservatorship Act to take ownership of a soon-to-be-vacant lot next to her Sycamore Street home.

Nicole Walters said she and her husband would seek reduction or elimination of back taxes on the property, as provided under the Act.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com. George Guido is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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