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Connellsville council looking at abandoned buildings ordinance

Celeste Van Kirk | Daily Courier
April Colgan of Connellsville walks past the abandoned WCVI Building on East Crawford Avenue in Connellsville.

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Buildings to watch

• Structures waiting for Community Development Block Grant funds to be demolished:

— 1018-1020 Aetna St. Unoccupied; Janice Rugg (Ernest and Janice Rugg); 2013 taxes not paid.

— 108-110 Gallatin Ave. Unoccupied; Leslie Nicholson (Toledo Investment Team); 2013 taxes not paid.

— 916 Aetna St. Unoccupied; Paul Krucziewicz; 2013 taxes not paid.

• Structures in court system that were ordered to be demolished:

— 114-114A Gallatin Ave. Unoccupied; Mark Fremd, deceased, listed as owner. 2013 taxes not paid.

— 109 Trader Ave. Declared a public nuisance, ordered to be demolished in June 2013; Mark and Christina Fremd listed as owners; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 511 Johnson (Johnston) Ave. Declared a public nuisance and ordered to be demolished August 2013; Denise and Kory Adams listed as owners; 2013 taxes not paid. Being demolished.

• Structures declared unfit and on the watch list to see whether action is taken:

— 131-139 E. Crawford Ave. WCVI Building; no maintenance being performed, found structurally unsound by K2 Engineering in March 2010; owned by Fayette County and now back on the county's for- sale list; taxes exonerated. Bid received by county on June 3, but county sent notice of the need to demolish the structure in 30 days.

— 256 E. Fairview Ave. Declared a public nuisance; no work done on structure; Paula Upton listed as owner; 2013 taxes not paid. Upton did not appear for a hearing on July 1.

— 115-117 S. Pittsburgh St. Unoccupied; Rodney Allen listed as owner; 2013 taxes not paid. The city has notified Allen that the building must be demolished soon.

— 109 Gallatin Ave. Unoccupied; Last Day's Deliverance Revival listed as owner; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 117 Witter Ave. Declared unfit; Harold Eddings listed as owner; structure gutted; no permit obtained for work; Eddings cited Feb. 14; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 118 North Alley. Declared unfit; structure gutted; no permit obtained for work. Property owner is listed as Eva White; John Enold cited; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 326 N. Meadow Lane. Declared unfit; dangerous structure due to large hole in foundation. Permit obtained for work, but not completed in timely manner; cited March 14; owner listed as Eva White; John Enold doing the work; 2013 taxes not paid. Work on foundation now being done.

— 517 N. Pittsburgh St. Half of duplex; owned by Timothy Johnson; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 213 Ogden St. Unfit due to fire; Warren Upton listed as owner, working on repairs; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 832 Morrell Ave. Declared unfit because of lack of water service; owned by Sheila McClean; waiting on Tax/Sheriff Sale.

— 209 N. Prospect St. Declared unfit because of sanitation; owned by Wayne Friend, who has purchased properties and was supposed to get to this one sometime this spring/summer; 2013 taxes paid.

— 122 S. Pittsburgh St. Structure gutted with permit obtained for work. Bond renewed; Charles Osler listed as owner; 2013 taxes not paid.

• Vacant structures sealed but on watch list because of ownership issues:

— 350 N. Arch St. Vacant; Federal National Mortgage listed as owner; 2013 taxes paid.

— 314 W. Murphy Ave. Vacant; owned by Brenda Herbert (Ronald and Brenda Herbert); sealed and waiting for Tax/Sheriff Sale; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 411 N. Jefferson St. Vacant; owned by John Albright (John and Rena Albright); waiting for Tax/Sheriff Sale; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 1129 Sycamore St. Vacant; owner unknown; 2013 taxes paid.

— 325-327 N. Pittsburgh St. Vacant; owned by Lisa Burnsworth; making slow progress; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 1141 S. Pittsburgh St. Vacant; owned by Charles Stephanick; making slow progress; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 126 N. Second St. Vacant; owned by Frank Gray; demolition permit returned; plans to fix structure; 2013 taxes paid.

— 405 N. Pittsburgh St. Vacant; owner listed as Andrea Sledge; sealed and attempting to sell; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 349-351 N. Pittsburgh St. Vacant; owned by Donald Fisch; making slow progress; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 101 N. Pittsburgh St. Vacant; owned by Richard DiCenzo; on list because of size; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 223 N. Third St. Vacant; owned by Rodney Allen; making slow progress; 2013 taxes not paid.

— 519 Race St. Unfit because of sanitation problem; owned by Roberta Pyle; family working on resolving; 2013 taxes paid.

— 1103 S. Arch St. Vacant for last six months; owned by Roberto Ayllon Flores (lives in Texas); 2013 taxes not paid.

— 353 N. Pittsburgh St. Vacant; owned by Mary Prestia (unknown whereabouts); taxes paid and occasional maintenance; 2013 taxes paid.

— 101 Lincoln Ave. Vacant; owned by Donald Snyder; under court order to obtain contractor to do necessary work; 2013 taxes not paid.

Source: City of Connellsville and Fayette County property records

List current as of June 17.

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Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, 6:00 p.m.

Editor's note: This is the first of a four-part series reviewing some of the properties that concern officials in the City of Connellsville. Today, an ordinance that could address the problem.

Connellsville is more than 200 years old. Many parts of the city are showing age.

Like many neighboring municipalities, Connellsville has buildings that have been left vacant and are turning to rubble from lack of care.

To address the problem, council has been studying a proposed Vacant or Abandoned Structure Registration and Maintenance Code ordinance. After months of discussion and review, council may vote on the ordinance at its Aug. 19 meeting.

“We don't want anymore buildings falling down,” Mayor Greg Lincoln said.

Lincoln and Councilman Aaron Zolbrod campaigned on the issue in the last election. Lincoln is a Democrat. Zolbrod is a Republican.

The new ordinance, as written, would call for the registration of all vacant or abandoned properties.

“The idea is to ensure that vacant properties are safe and not a fire hazard or a hazard to children, other residents or those who have properties in close proximity,” said Zolbrod, the city's director of health and public safety. “It hopefully will encourage those who have been just sitting on those properties and allowing them to decay to do something positive with them. It will also protect the city from doing costly demolitions and help preserve important and historical buildings in town.

“The ultimate goals are not to put pressure on people,” he continued. “The goals, in my opinion, are to, No. 1, ensure the properties pose no health, safety or fire hazard; No. 2, to save as many structures so we don't have a city full of vacant lots; No. 3, to ensure the city doesn't end up bearing the financial responsibility of tearing properties down.”

The ordinance includes an annual fee for the registration. In its current form, the ordinance sets the costs of $30 for single-family dwellings; $50 to $150 for multi-family dwellings; and $100 to $250 for commercial buildings. The registrations would need to be completed by March 1 of each year.

The owners would be required to maintain those structures to the level of the International Property Maintenance Code and the International Fire Code. The buildings would be inspected — internally and externally — by the city code official annually.

The ordinance was to be submitted at the May meeting, but was tabled because of various concerns including those about a requirement to leave the utilities on, interference with the rights of property owners and the possibility of developing a land bank in Fayette County, brought up by Councilman Tom Karpiak.

The ordinance was expected to be reintroduced with “tweaks” at the June meeting, according to Zolbrod. However, it was delayed until the August meeting.

This is not the first time the city has tried to come up with legislation aimed at the problems.

A strict Landlord Registration and Occupancy Ordinance passed council in April 2009, but was repealed in September the same year. That ordinance called for landlords to be responsible for the actions of their tenants or be fined as much as $1,000. The ordinance included a $50 inspection fee and a $10 yearly registration fee.

An ordinance calling for just a $10 annual license fee passed in November 2009.

Neither version of the ordinance had provisions covering vacant or abandoned structures.

Buildings in disrepair

The reasons commercial structures and residences end up in need of work vary.

Structures owned by businesses may be left vacant when those companies cease to exist.

The building at 131-139 E. Crawford Ave., which once housed the WCVI radio station, sat vacant for many years and is now a hazard to city residents, according to council members and fire officials. Some windows are broken and a back wall on a one-story annex is collapsing.

Fayette County owns the building and has been advised by the city that the structure must be demolished soon. The building was back on the county tax claim bureau website, and a bid for the property was received on June 3 from Leighton Simpson of Pompton Lakes, N.J. Simpson has told the Daily Courier he wants to rehabilitate the structure, possibly with storefronts on the first floor and condos on the upper floors.

There are several houses on the city's list of unoccupied structures possibly in need of repair or that should be demolished. Three are awaiting Community Development Block Grant funds for demolition: 1018-1020 Aetna St., 916 Aetna St. and 108-110 Gallatin Ave.

Historic structures

Salvaging historic buildings is not out of the question.

Last year, Charles Matthews, Connellsville's former mayor, and other officials were able to work out a deal with Connellsville native and area businessman Terry “Tuffy” Shallenberger.

Shallenberger purchased the decaying Aaron's building for $1 and was given adjacent property by the city last summer. The deal may have cost the city approximately $25,000 for the adjacent properties, but demolition of the building was expected to exceed $200,000, city officials noted.

The building, constructed as a high-priced furniture store in 1906 by immigrant Isaac Aaron, was saved.

Shallenberger has had his company, Shallenberger Construction Inc., working on the structure. The top two floors were removed and a new roof is in place. His initial plans called for a banquet hall for weddings and large events on the main floor, conference rooms on the second floor, and loft apartments on the third floor. He previously said he may use the fourth floor for storage or for more loft apartments.

Zolbrod said he hears owners of buildings that are vacant or abandoned complaining that the city is picking on them. But he sees the issue differently.

“What if it was you who were living next to a building that is unsafe?” he asked. “What if you had to worry about your kids' safety, about a fire spreading to your home? If anybody has got an alternative to this (ordinance), I'm all ears.”

Other problems facing the city involving the abandoned buildings include the fact that most owners of buildings on the city's watch list have yet to pay their 2013 property taxes. Several unoccupied houses have fallen into disrepair and are on the city's list of those waiting to be demolished or are abandoned and boarded up. They are spread in pockets around the city.

Tuesday: A closer look at structurally deficient buildings.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-626-3538.

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