Abandoned property ordinance up for vote again Tuesday in Connellsville

| Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, 3:51 p.m.

The proposed ordinance concerning abandoned property and vacant structures in the City of Connellsville will be brought before city council for a third time this year at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The ordinance requires those owners of vacant or abandoned buildings to register with the city, open their property for inspection, and maintain the structure inside and out for the health and welfare of the public and for emergency responders who may have to enter the property.

During July's regular meeting, public comment from those for and against the ordinance lasted for nearly two hours with council deciding to table a vote for the August meeting to make some changes to the ordinance.

“We've been working on this for two years,” said Councilman Aaron Zolbrod during that meeting. “We want to make sure it's as right as it can be.”

Health code officer Tom Currey said the proposed ordinance for Tuesday's meeting will include changes based on two of the concerns people have expressed.

“There's now language in there to give landlords more time to make repairs and bring their properties into compliance,” Currey said.

The original draft of the ordinance only gave landlords 90 days to make those repairs, but the newly drafted ordinance doubled that time to six months.

“We thought that was more than fair,” Currey said.

Currey added a stipulation was included for the elderly living alone who find themselves either in a hospital for an extended period or in a personal care facility.

Currey said that while people in that situation will still need someone to register the structure with the city, they won't be the subject of property owner contact information on the front of the structure or inspections of the structure.

The city has approximately 60 vacant structures of which it knows, Currey said. Of those 60, Currey doesn't know how many would be considered a public nuisance unless he can inspect the interior.

At the August meeting, Terry Shallenberger, owner of the historic Aaron's building, which is undergoing renovations to include high-end apartments for those in the natural gas industry, said, “There's progress going on here, but something needs to be done.”

Shallenberger said someone paying $2,000 for an apartment may think twice if they look outside and see plywood over another building's windows.

Those against the ordinance were concerned about the rights of building owners and the abuse of government power.

The options on the books to fight blighted properties have not worked because there are owners who play the game and go around the system, Zolbrod said at the July council said, noting the annual penalties are just for building owners that have abandoned or vacant properties, not for every building owner.

“We're not trying to punish people for owning properties,” Zolbrod said at the July meeting.

In other business Tuesday, council is expected to:

• Open bids and accept bid for the city-owned vacant property on York Avenue to be sold as one lot.

• Approve a police internship for Donald Morris, a California University of Pennsylvania student, for 12 weeks.

• Allow the Yough River Trail Council and Connellsville Area High School to erect two Adirondack shelters on city property at no cost to the city.

• Remind residents of the East Park movie, “The Blind Side,” on Thursday, following a city-wide pep rally at 7 p.m.; a fishing derby in Yough Park, Saturday starting at 8 a.m.; offices at City Hall will be closed on Sept. 1 in observance of Labor Day; the Mum Festival/Mustang Parade with the Fayette County Cultural Trust on Sept. 6; and the 5K Paint Run/Walk at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus at 10 a.m. Sept. 13.

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

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