Blight Poses Challenges For Distressed Cities

Locator map of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Metro...

Locator map of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Metropolitan Statistical Area in the northeastern part of the of . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scranton is a city of 76,000 people with a housing stock largely built before 1940 for a population almost twice that number.

It has the blight to prove it.

As the financially strapped city struggles to combat blight and the host of ills it fosters, Scranton finds itself in a position common among many Rust Belt communities: many old buildings, too few people willing or able to keep them up and limited resources to press aggressively for a comprehensive solution.

The region’s other two major cities, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton, are dealing with similar issues, though their circumstances don’t precisely mirror Scranton’s.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/blight-poses-challenges-for-distressed-cities-1.1744585

Diana Nelson Jones’ Walkabout: Pittsburgh Is Tops Again As A Great Home For Big Crop Of Trees

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its nei...

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its neighborhoods labeled. For use primarily in the list of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the flurry of national press Pittsburgh has been getting, we’d better step up the pace of hotel construction, get our spare bedrooms advertised on AirB&B and send a buzz through the network of couch surfers. We’re sure to get more company in the coming years.

Our little gem of a city has been at or near the top of lists of places to invest in and raise a family and that have the most public art, best housing prices, best cost of living, best view, most breathtaking entry point and best (and maybe most) neighborhoods.

But of all the lists I’ve seen, Pittsburgh’s status in a recent report by National Geographic makes me the proudest.

Of the cities featured in an article headlined “Nine Cities That Love Their Trees,” Pittsburgh was cited as having the greatest canopy among New York, Philadelphia, Austin, Detroit, Washington, Baltimore, Portland and Tampa.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/diana-nelson-jones/2014/04/29/City-is-tops-again-as-a-great-home-for-big-crop-of-trees/stories/201404290060#ixzz30KFQnaue

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Dunmore May Condemn Homes Where Drugs Are Sold

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

DUNMORE, PA – Drug dealers who settle in the borough may soon find themselves homeless.

Borough council next month will consider amending Dunmore’s building code ordinance to temporarily condemn homes and apartments where people are selling or manufacturing drugs.

“A one-time zone violation of drug activity on site will result in immediate closure of the property,” solicitor Thomas Cummings told councilmen on Monday. “It mirrors (ordinances) used by other communities in an effort to stem the drug problem which … destroys the neighborhood, destroys the property value and just creates a downward spiral.”

Borough lawmakers were already thinking of doing more to combat drugs when Dunmore police and Lackawanna County detectives found a large cache of drugs and related paraphernalia at a Prescott Avenue home last month.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/dunmore-may-condemn-homes-where-drugs-are-sold-1.1668476

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Legislator Wants Action On Mine Fires

Locator map of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Metro...

Locator map of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Metropolitan Statistical Area in the northeastern part of the of . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OLYPHANT, PA — Coal heated up the Lackawanna and Wyoming valleys’ job market decades ago, and today it’s still making the region hot as no fewer than eight underground mine fires are burning from Carbondale to Newport Township.

The issue has not been taken seriously enough by the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to Rep. Kevin Haggerty, D-Dunmore, and officials in Olyphant, where one of the fires has been burning for nearly a decade.

During a public meeting Haggerty organized in Olyphant on Thursday, he said he has written a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett urging him to declare Luzerne and Lackawanna counties “disaster areas” so federal and state funding could be freed up to help extinguish the fires.

Three of those fires, all in Luzerne County, are designated as serious by the state Department of Environmental Protection, meaning occupied structures are less than 1,000 feet away. The other five are classified as moderate, meaning occupied structures are at least 1,000 feet away.

Read more: http://timesleader.com/news/local-news/1156029/Legislator-wants-action-on-mine-fires

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Ross Firm Strives To Make ‘Pittsburgh Neighborhoods Viable Again’

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its nei...

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its neighborhoods labeled. For use primarily in the list of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Josh Adamek and Scott Hastings believe their work is a form of neighborhood-building.

“A lot of these properties are distressed, so they aren’t worth anything,” Adamek said of the houses they are renewing. “With some work, they are homes and they help the tax base.”

Adamek is president and Hastings is vice president of Synergy Capital in the Perrysville section of Ross. The 3-year-old real estate development and investment firm is renovating homes in what Adamek calls “trendy neighborhoods” such as Lawrenceville, Bloomfield and the South Side.

“They are doing quality work,” said Aspinwall architect Susan Tusick, who has worked with the pair on several projects. “They are trying to make these city neighborhoods viable again.”

Read more: http://triblive.com/business/realestate/5011466-74/adamek-hastings-homes#ixzz2lghMlszE
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Reading Officials Form Plan To Find Foreclosed-Property Owners

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A two-alarm fire in September 2011 gutted a vacant row home at 1422 Muhlenberg St., damaged two neighboring properties, and started the city on yet another frustrating journey to find an owner and order that a building be properly boarded up.

The Muhlenberg Street problem was just one skirmish in the city’s ongoing battle to find elusive property owners for such things as fire cleanup, unpaid taxes, quality-of-life tickets or blight.

But the battle may soon be over.

The city has a plan to get banks to register their foreclosures and may hire an outside firm to help monitor and enforce the rules.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=515575

Cherry Hill Proposes New Regulations On Abandoned Houses

Census Bureau map of Cherry Hill Township, New...

Census Bureau map of Cherry Hill Township, New Jersey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever John Aponik cuts the grass, bits of blue tarp get caught in the blades of his lawn mower.

Around Christmas, “it gets in all the wreaths,” Aponik said of the tarp that has been shredding off the house next door to his on Glen Lane in Cherry Hill, where a renovation project was abandoned four years ago.

No one has lived in the house since then, Aponik said, although it isn’t exactly vacant. “Raccoons, possums – cats were breeding out there,” Aponik said, who has set traps lent to him by a neighbor.

He’s also written letters to the mayor’s office and repeatedly called a contractor employed by mortgage companies, but the problems remain: The township doesn’t own the property.

Read more:  http://www.philly.com/philly/news/new_jersey/20130422_Cherry_Hill_proposes_new_regulations_on_abandoned_houses.html

New Pottstown Law Charges Fee To Owners Of Vacant Property

Editor’s note:  The only way this is worth the paper it’s printed on is IF it’s enforced.  The track record for enforcing ordinances in Pottstown is poor.  There are loitering ordinances on file but look at High Street.  “ZZ Top” and company lingering aimlessly around the clock tower, panhandlers, drop in center people hanging around etc…  Why not enforce the laws already on the books!  That would offer immediate improvement.

POTTSTOWN — With a 4-1 vote Monday, borough council adopted a new ordinance which requires the owners of vacant property to register those properties with the borough and to pay an escalating registration fee for each year the property remains vacant.

According to the ordinance, the owners of vacant property must not only register it, but secure it against illegal entry and even post a sign on the property, indicating the name, address and telephone number of the owner.

Starting Sept. 1, when the ordinance goes into effect, owners of vacant residential property must pay a $75 registration fee. If the property is vacant a year later, the registration fee is $125, and $175 the year after that. For every other subsequent year the property is vacant, the registration fee is $275.

Vacant multi-family dwellings will see their registration fee rise from $200 to $400 and industrial or commercial buildings smaller than 10,000 square feet have a first-time fee of $250 that rises to $450 by the fourth year.

Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20130217/NEWS01/130219607/new-pottstown-law-charges-fee-to-owners-of-vacant-property#full_story

City Of Reading: A Study In Contrasts

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Reading Redevelopment Authority on Wednesday unveiled a thick sheaf of brightly colored graphics and numerous data tables that all point to one map in the middle – a map the authority and the city say will guide future city economic development efforts.

That map shows where the high-value housing markets are in the Reading area and the location of steady markets, transitional neighborhoods and distressed areas, all in specific detail.

It’s part of the market value analysis that The Reinvestment Fund, Philadelphia, completed for the authority and released at a Pennsylvania Economy League breakfast at the Berkshire Country Club, Bern Township.

“What the MVA (market value analysis) basically does is help you focus your meager resources and channel your efforts on nodes of strength,” said Adam Mukerji, authority executive director.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=423215

Scranton Parks Slated For $400,000 Boost From Community Development Block Grants And State Funds

Downtown Scranton, looking East from West Moun...

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Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty is a man on a mission in 2011.  His goal is to make improvements at two existing city parks and create a new pocket park.  Doherty hopes to use Community Development Block Grants and a $50,000 state grant from the governor’s office, which was verbally committed to by Ed Rendell.

1700 Perry Avenue was formerly the site of a school and is now a vacant lot.  Doherty thinks this site would be ideal for a pocket park.  Scranton City Council eliminated funding for the proposed park from the 2011 budget.  Undeterred, Doherty is seeking other funding as listed above and additional grants through Lowe’s, Home Depot and Kaboom.  The mayor estimates he needs $75,000 to complete the North Scranton pocket park, which will feature a swing set, playground area and bike path which will also include a small BMX trick park.  This vacant lot is a blighted property.  Creating the park will clean up blight, add more recreation and improve property values in the neighborhood.

The Clover Field Park is next on the agenda.  The Mayor hopes to add a playground area to a section of the park.  The playground area would serve neighborhood children and the children who take part in the West Side Jets junior football program. The West Side Jets use the park as their home base.  The cost for these improvements will be $135,000 and funded through the Community Development Block Grant program.

The third project will impact the Novembrino swim complex, 10th Avenue, also on Scranton’s West Side.  The deep water pool is going to be eliminated and a splash park added in its place.  Adding a splash park eliminates the need for lifeguards and cuts down on the city’s water bill.  The splash park is expected to cost $183,000.  The city is looking at their pools, which are all around 40 years old.

Doherty said “We have an obligation to reinvest in neighborhoods, stabilize them and maintain property values.”  Mr. Mayor, we could not agree more!

Pottstown Borough Budget Meeting

Today, November 30, 2010 at 6:00 pm, Pottstown Borough Council and borough staff discussed the proposed 2011 borough budget.

I must commend Jason, Janice, Councilor Weand, the Finance Committee and our borough staff for the effort they put into finding ways to cut costs and maintain services.  I do not think it is possible to ask Jason a question he can not answer.  Janice Lee has more than earned her salary by walking into the abyss aka borough finances and taking the bull by the horns!  So much has been accomplished to get our financial house in order.  As I said in an earlier post, accounting is boring to write about however, the changes implemented by Jason, Janice and Finance will pay huge dividends down the road.  We now have a clearer financial picture than ever before.  Frankly, things are not all that bleak now that Generally Accepted Accounting Principals have been returned to borough hall.

Council asked some tough questions of Jason, Janice and the department heads.  I was impressed with how well the questions were answered and the manner with which our borough staff handled themselves.

The bottom line is that council unanimously approved the 2011 budget with a 3.1% tax increase.  The increase equates to $25.66 per year on a home assessed at $85,000.  We have a $177,000 deficit that unfortunately makes this necessary.  The increase can go down if more spending cuts are found or unexpected revenue comes in before the end of the year.  However, the increase can not go any higher than 3.1%.  The projected property tax collection rate is 92% for 2010.

Getting to a zero tax increase would mean selling a park, laying off Parks and Recreation staff, cutting programs or messing with the paid driver’s health benefits in the Fire Department.  Our parks are a big plus for existing borough residents and attracting new residents.  We can barely maintain our parks system with the staff we have and cutting programs affects the quality of life for our residents.  Fire Department drivers can not afford to pay their health benefits at their current salary levels.  It is not their fault costs are skyrocketing.

The assessed value of all Pottstown real estate came in a million dollars higher than projected which also helped the process.  The rate of decline in assessed property value seems to be leveling off and council is hopeful that this trend may reverse itself as some development projects in the pipeline are completed.  Unfortunately, the assessed property value of Pottstown still declined $1.9 million dollars from last year.  This brings in less tax revenue. 

PCTV has agreed to reduce their management fee to $331,000.  The borough can ill afford to absorb their $147,000 revenue shortfall so going forward they need to break even.  PCTV has lost revenue because of the recession and now when FIOS comes to Pottstown, Verizon will not allow PCTV to be a for-profit community access channel.  PCTV could potentially lose 25% of their viewers as residents switch from Comcast to Verizon.  Council will be scrutinizing PCTV very closely in 2011.  PCTV is trying to get grant money, however, until such time as a grant is received, they will still continue to struggle.

York’s Olde Towne East Neighborhood Transformed

Olde Towne East was a down and out neighborhood in York.  Blight, crime, vacant buildings and low property values.  Read this article about how Olde Towne East rose like a phoenix from the ashes and now their neighborhood is a source of pride in York!

http://www.newpa.com/strengthen-your-community/success-stories/million-dollar-makeover/index.aspx