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Health board wants to 'clear the air'

| Thursday, Sept. 26, 2002

In response to Connellsville City Council's decision to reject a list of blighted structures recommended for demolition, the city's Board of Health has called a special meeting to "clear the air," according to Loretta Lint, board president.

Lint said the meeting is necessary to reassure members and the public that the board has "done nothing wrong" and has followed procedure completely.

Although unable to attend the council meeting, Lint said she heard from several frustrated board members who threatened to quit over the ordeal.

As it has for the last several years, the board compiled a list of blighted structures eligible for demolition, using an already approved portion of the city's Community Development Block Grant funds, and submitted it to the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority, which oversees the grant. This year, the city's application allocated $35,000 for the demolition of blighted or dilapidated structures.

At last month's council meeting, the board's recommendation was rejected, and council passed a resolution asking the board to revise the list.

However, Lint said the board has no intention of doing that. These structures, which Connellsville's health and code officer Rita Bornstein and the board have determined to be public nuisances, are the board's recommendations and will remain so.

According to Bornstein, the buildings on the list have been deemed a public nuisance, but may not necessarily qualify as dangerous buildings. According to BOCA codes, the public nuisance label is given to structures that meet a certain number of criteria, including not being safe for human habitation, manifestly capable of being a fire hazard, having unsanitary sewerage or plumbing facilities, or lacking plumbing, heating or facilities required by code. These buildings meet that criteria.

Although there are still several buildings in the city that may fall under the label of dangerous buildings and have been turned over to council for action, Bornstein said this list will take care of most of the public nuisance structures in town.

"This is about the end of our houses," said Bornstein.

Evidently, there is an advantage to demolishing the structures on the list all at one time. According to Bornstein, it is less expensive to have a company take them all down at one time. In addition, an asbestos study, which can cost up to $400 per structure, is not required because they are not city-owned or commercial structures.

"To us, it was a win-win situation," said Bornstein.

Concerns over the fact that many of the owners of these structures can be located and can afford to do the demolition themselves have surfaced. Although it was said that in years past all of the structures demolished had absentee landlords, Lint said that just wasn't true.

In addition, Lint said neither the grant nor the city have regulations in place stating that the board can only consider structures with absentee owners or those that can't afford to do it themselves. Although she said it is council's right to implement a regulation like that, she doesn't believe the rules should be changed in the middle like this. Bornstein agreed.

"If they want to change the rules and regulations, do it next year, not in the middle like this," said Bornstein.

In addition to revising the list, council is also asking the board to ensure all tax issues and liens are handled prior to demolition. However, Lint said that isn't the job of the board or the health officer.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 tonight at city hall.

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