Seat Pleasant seeks to tear down vacant buildings without county involvement

March 18, 2013

Seat Pleasant resident Denise Akers, 45, said her neighbors work hard to keep their homes in good shape, but the work is negated by a vacant and fire-damaged house in the community.

“You go down the street and say, ‘Oh, that’s a nice house,’ until you get to the next one,” Akers said. “It brings the value down throughout the neighborhood.”

Officials were unsure of the number of abandoned properties in the city, but they said they have received many complaints about them. As a result, officials are working to adopt a policy that would allow them to demolish properties deemed unsafe and a blight to the community.

Currently, the city must either seek condemnation of a property through litigation or coordinate with county agencies to declare a property unsafe and eligible for demolition, according to Seat Pleasant Police Chief Chris Cotillo. Going through the county, the process to get a property demolished takes 60 days, Cotillo said; litigation can take much longer.

City leaders are hoping to adopt a plan they could follow, mirroring the county policy, that would let the city demolish the property in a 60-day process.

City Council member Elenora Simms (Ward 1) said that while the county has been easy to work with, it would be better if the city could order the demolition of properties that are unsafe eyesores.

“We want our staff to be qualified to do that, too,” Simms said. “We want all of the avenues in place so we can get our staff in a position to do it without having to call the county.”

Cotillo said officials came up with the idea for a city policy in December, as they worked with the county Department of Environmental Resources to demolish a home in the 5800 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Highway.

“We had this house we were dealing with and wanted to address, but found out that ... there really wasn’t a policy for this kind of thing,” Cotillo said. “Then, when we got the county involved, we realized that if you utilized county procedure, you can get it done a lot quicker.”

Cotillo said he frequently hears calls for criminal activity at some of the city’s abandoned properties.

DER Deputy Director Gary E. Cunningham said in an e-mail that some municipalities have policies allowing them to demolish unsafe properties, and that as long as a city’s policy is consistent with county laws, his agency has no objection to a city condemning and demolishing properties.

“Although some jurisdictions have the authority, they often require the county’s assistance in addressing these issues,” Cunningham wrote. “We stand ready, willing and able to assist as necessary.”

Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene W. Grant said the ability to combat blight would not only reduce crime but also promote redevelopment as investors recognize the changes.

“In an effort to clean up our city, we can also spur economic development and growth,” Grant said. “This measure will allow us to address these issues and improve the quality of life.”

Grant said the measure probably will be addressed by the City Council by June.

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