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Blighted properties a burden on Carnegie Borough

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Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
 

The house on Seventh Street in Carnegie sits vacant. The yard is unkempt. No lights shine in the windows. The house shows no signs of that lived-in feeling.

Because it isn't — and hasn't been for a while.

The house is just one of at least 30 properties in the borough that officials consider abandoned, blighted or vacant, and officials say they are a burden on the community.

“You get properties that are vacant with weeds growing everywhere, and neighbors are never happy when that happens,” borough solicitor Joe Lucas said.

When this happens and the owners are deceased or unreachable, he said, public works must care for any overgrown lawn or weeds.

Public works supervisor Keith Hatcher said it places an undue burden on the department.

“It's a big strain on resources,” he said. “It takes away from our daily jobs and everything else we have to do during the day.” It also costs money, including labor and equipment costs.

“We're never going to recoup the money used to take care of these properties – even after they're sold,” Hatcher said.

There are several ways for the borough to deal with these properties, Lucas said, none of which are particularly simple — the borough does not own any of these blighted or vacant properties.

In some cases, individuals interested in buying the properties have struck a deal with the owners to buy and repair the property. Other times, the owners agree to clean up the property.

“If the property is not in disrepair and we know where the owner is, we might try to put people willing to fix the property in contact with the owner to see if they would be willing to make a deal to fix the property up,” Lucas said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.”

If back taxes are owed on the property, the borough can put the property up for sheriff sale, Lucas said – but that costs money, and there is no guarantee someone will buy the property.

If the borough code enforcement officer and engineer deems a property structurally unsound, the borough can ask the county court to allow a demolition — something that also costs money.

And the process to get to that point is a lengthy one, said Carnegie code enforcement officer Terry Roma.

A violation notice, he said, is issued whenever the structure is found to be unsafe, which can be for a variety of reasons, including the degree to which the structure is “in disrepair or lacks maintenance, is unsanitary, vermin or rat infested, contains filth and contamination, or lacks ventilation, illumination, sanitary or heating facilities or other essential equipment required by code.”

After 30 days, if the owner responds to the violation, one of two notices can be given: “unfit for occupancy” or “raze for repair.” Owners have 20 days to appeal. After an additional 30 days, the property is condemned. Owners then have another 20 days to appeal. After another 30 days, if no steps to correct the issues have been taken, a citation is issued. After this, the borough can ask permission to demolish it.

“Costs for demolition vary from structure to structure,” Roma said, but the demolition of a fire-damaged house on Howard Street in May cost the borough $18,400. On Nov. 11, the borough approved a motion to pay $46,711.50 for the demolition of the former Pucci Apartments on Third Street.

Carneige Mayor Jack Kobistek said revitalizing housing in some struggling areas of the borough is one of his goals for the next four years.

“Not only is it a financial burden to the community, but it is a public safety issue,” he said.

He said vacant and abandoned properties can be a haven for crime and drugs.

“Our police department does a good job of combatting this,” he said. “But it happens. It's not as frequent as other communities, but it does happen.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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