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Crafton manager proposes committee to target blighted properties

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Crafton leaders are planning a more proactive approach to reducing the number of vacant and blighted properties.

Borough manager Robert Callen is spearheading an effort to form a vacant- and blighted-property review committee to better look at options for dealing with those properties in the community. He envisions the committee including people of varied backgrounds.

“We need a group to help us think through and guide us in different strategies,” he said. “We have some types of people identified now, but it needs ratified — a banker, a real estate person, a legal expert, an architect.”

He said 53 properties in the borough are blighted or abandoned.

It's a problem in most communities, said Cassandra Collinge, manger of housing development at the Allegheny County Economic Development Office. The office runs the county Vacant Property Recovery Program, which takes blighted properties and resells them to applicants for a preapproved use. Municipalities must apply to be part of the program.

“Unfortunately, most municipalities have blight,” she said. “Some communities have more than others, and blight can look different in different communities depending on codes.”

She said while her office is not familiar yet with Crafton's committee, the recovery program encourages municipal officials to find new ways to deal with vacant and blighted properties.

“We're seeing a lot more municipalities interested in finding new ways to deal with the issue,” she said.

A similar committee is being formed in Munhall but also is in its infancy. Crafton code-enforcement officer David Cannon said he hopes the committee will begin meeting in January and go from there.

He said there about 300 vacant properties in the borough. His goal for the committee is for the borough to take over the properties through eminent domain and auction them off.

“If we keep tearing down houses, we won't have any tax revenue left,” Cannon said. “Most of them are structurally sound; they just need maintenance on them.”

But the process of getting from blighted or vacant to restored or sellable is arduous, Callen said.

“The legal process could take the better part of four or five months,” he said.

He said he hopes to have the borough's committee work with the county redevelopment authority and vacant property recovery program. Forty communities participate in the recovery program, including Carnegie, Collier, Green Tree, Heidelberg and Scott.

Heidelberg Borough Manager Joe Kauer said officials there have a good partnership with the county program, which it has been a part of for eight years.

“In this time period through this program, Heidelberg was able to take ownership of six vacant lots,” he said. “Of the six, we were able to partner with the county again and build two new homes … and four other property owners were able to expand their side yards through acquisition of the neighboring abandoned property.”

He said Heidelberg does not have a vacant-property review committee.

Carnegie Borough Manager Stephen Beuter said he would like to see Carnegie pursue a review committee similar to Crafton's.

Carnegie has about 30 vacant or blighted properties in the borough.

Collinge said while she does not know the trends of vacant and blighted properties in the suburbs, innovative thinking can help communities find new ways to find solutions.

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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