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Tick, tock: now the inspector knocks

November 21, 2013

by Journalism II

A city building inspector is scheduled to visit a vacant home on Park Avenue Friday that has been empty for close to 17 years. The status of 681 Park Ave., which is owned by a firefighter, was first reported back in May in a story about quality of life issues in the city.

681 Park Ave./Lauren Halligan

681 Park Ave./Lauren Halligan

The property was registered as vacant in 2006 and continues to show little signs of repair. The building was last occupied in March 1996 when a fire damaged the building. Some residents are concerned that the vacant and now dilapidated house could attract trouble.

One neighbor who is nervous about the future of 681 Park Ave. is Diane Schuetze, who has lived on the street for 18 years. She wonders what an empty house might bring this winter.

“Transients are drawn to empty houses,” said Schuetze. Someone trying to keep warm may take shelter in the home on a cold night. “If the person starts a fire, the whole neighborhood is at risk.”

While Schuetze has not recognized any noticeable improvements to the property since the story “Give Me Park Avenue,” was first published in May, the owner of the property was cleaning debris off the parcel earlier this month.

Just this year, the property was inspected in June, and July and the city permitted an extension for owner Patrick Landers to repair the missing siding, and paint the door and window coverings.  In order for the property to pass inspection, Landers must keep the property registered as  vacant with the city’s office of Building and Regulatory Compliance. He is also required to repair missing or damaged exterior surfaces including siding, remove debris from the property, repaint exterior wood surfaces, board up any open windows and doors as well as painting them a color that compliments the building and paint the coverings of all doors and windows among other code violations.

“There is scaffolding set up at 681 Park Ave., but I have not noticed any work at the property, at least not on the exterior,” said Gregory Maida, who owns 677 Park Ave. It is possible that repairs have occurred inside the house. In the past he has sent letters of complaint to the city.

Landers and another man were working on the property on Nov. 6. Wheelbarrows filled with wood were hauled from the back yard into a trailer attached to a blue pickup truck parked on the street in front of the building. The flatbed was filled with machinery and pieces of cream colored siding resembling the siding on the house.

Last week, Landers criticized the portrayal of his property in the story on The Pine Hills Blog: “I’m not quite sure why Saint Rose has such a, you know, extraordinary interest in my property,” he said. He did not elaborate on his plans to make the property habitable, although in city records from August 2011, Landers wrote that he intended to remove the exterior asphalt sheathing and re-frame the interior “in preparation for occupancy.” That was more than two years ago.

The property scheduled for city inspection Friday is one of about 10 in the neighborhood and about 850 citywide registered as abandoned or vacant. Another vacant building east of the Park Avenue property is located in the 500 block of Myrtle Avenue. Postings on the front door and windows affixed as recently as late last month direct the property owners to call the Wells Fargo mortgage company. But, pinpointing the problems of each of the uncared for properties is not easy, said Common Council member Leah Golby, who represents parts of neighborhood.

546 Myrtle Ave./Ariana Wilson

546 Myrtle Ave./Ariana Wilson

She has received numerous complaints about issues concerning various buildings. “The houses that I have dealt with, they’re each unique. They each have their own story,” said Golby.

The residential Myrtle Avenue property is near her home and was placed on the vacant building inventory list on Feb. 13 of this year. According to Keith McDonald, commissioner of the Department of Assessment and Taxation, the property is owned by Francis Cristofaro and Kathleen O’Leary, neither of whom could be reached for comment. No forwarding address was provided to the Department of Assessment and Taxation, McDonald said.

Golby asked the city to inspect the vacant property. She wants the house to be fixed, sold and put back to use as a home. “It would be terrific to start providing ways to help get these properties back in use,” said Golby, “We want them to be in good shape.”

Funding assistance could speed up and enhance property repair, Golby said. However, in order for that to happen, the landowners of problematic properties must take advantage of what assistance may be provided to them, instead of abandoning the properties and allowing them to degrade.

The city can fine and prosecute owners, demolish their properties, or both. Jeffrey Jamison, director of the City’s Building and Regulatory Compliance Department, encounters abandoned buildings all the time. “We’ve had about 20 [demolished] so far this year,” he said. “If we feel that it is an imminent threat to the public then we’ll have to take it down.

“You look at places like Detroit and other cities that have 10,000 to 15,000 vacant buildings, they can’t tear them all down, it’s not feasible,” Jamison said, “but if they are a danger to the public, we will have to tear them down.” -30-

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