As one blighted building in Lansford falls to the wrecking ball, another is in the crosshairs of a community improvement group.
Officers of Lansford Alive want borough council to take action to force the owner of a long-vacant clothing factory at Cortright and West Bertsch streets to fix up his massive red brick building.
Code enforcement officer Katheryn Labosky says she's cited George Geissinger, the owner of the former Kiddie Kloes factory, many times over tall grass, broken windows and a rusting old fire escape.
Geissinger said he mows the grass, shovels snow in winter and tries to keep up with repairing or covering broken windows, but children who wait across the street for the school bus break the glass faster than he can fix it. His building is scheduled to be sold by Carbon County on Aug. 12 and/or at an upset tax sale on Sept. 23 to recoup delinquent property taxes, said Renee Roberts, director of the county Tax Claim Bureau.
"This property has outstanding 2009 and 2010 county and borough taxes due in the amount of $7,719.27," Roberts said.
Geissinger also owes school tax. Robert Daday, an attorney with Portnoff Law Associates of Norristown, Montgomery County, which collects delinquent school taxes, said Geissinger owes $18,846.02 in school tax from 2007 in addition to fees and collections costs. The tax sale, he said, will be continued in anticipation of Geissinger paying the bill.
Geissinger said he's catching up with the late payments.
In a July 20 letter to council, Lansford Alive President Mark Sverchek and Vice-President Bob Silver took borough leaders and the code enforcement officer to task over the situation.
"We are asking that Lansford Borough Council request, no order, the Code Enforcement Office to immediately begin necessary matters to bring this property up to code. Currently there are over 200 broken windows, and upon further investigation more code violations exist at this time," the letter states.
"Failure to enforce the borough codes in such cases allows deteriorated buildings to continue to deteriorate, resulting in potentially an unsafe and costly condition. The last thing our town needs is another large building collapsing (i.e. the former Victoria Theatre) and causing serious and expensive property damage. The borough cannot afford to demolish additional buildings where the previous owners were NOT properly cited for ongoing violations. Such a financial burden is something the borough and its taxpayers simply cannot afford.
"Lansford Alive is urging council to enforce its codes and properly cite the offenders so that we can begin restoring a sense of responsibility to negligent property owners. Our organization is diligently trying our best to make a positive difference in Lansford. However, our efforts will be for naught if another building collapses and codes continue to be enforced in an erratic and sporadic manner," the letter states. "We know that YOU, as the Lansford Council and the Code Department can and must do better because the citizens and taxpayers deserve better."
Sverchek and Silver wrote that the borough could use Act 900, signed into law in October by Gov. Tom Corbett. The law allow municipalities to file court actions against owners of properties with serious code violations resulting in judgments against the owners' assets, not just liens against the buildings.
Council President Adam Webber said he has "reviewed the letter that was sent to the Lansford Borough Council from Lansford Alive. I feel that the observations of Lansford Alive are true and correct. I am personally looking into ways that the code department can be improved. It is also my belief that a meeting should be set up between Lansford Borough Council and Lansford Alive. This forum could be used as a communication platform to build understanding between the two groups."
The town has been struggling to deal with several long-vacant buildings. The Panther Valley School District recently demolished a deteriorated industrial building across the street from Geissinger's.
Labosky said she's "tried to rectify the situation (with Geissinger). Citations are continually written, but that's not a long-term solution. I will continue to cite Mr. Geissinger." She said she has cited him for tall weeds and grass and the broken windows. Geissinger, however, appeals the citations or simply pays the fines.
"It's a long process," Labosky said. "There is no easy answer here."
Geissinger, who said he bought the building about seven years ago, blames vandalism.
"We were going to renovate it, but since I got it, the economy took a dump," he said. Geissinger said the building is in "no worse condition than when I bought it." The worst problem, he said, are the windows.
"That's the (Panther Valley) school district's fault," he said.
Geissinger contends that when the school district was renovating its adjacent football stadium, workers did not install fences. Children lobbed pieces of broken concrete at the windows.
He said he has a five-gallon bucket of pieces of concrete he picked up inside the building.
Further, he said, "kids waiting for school buses also vandalize the property. I cover them up, and three days later there's more broken windows."
Geissinger said he keeps grass cut and shovels the snow. He also said he has "a few prospective buyers."
The building is sound, he said, and he repaired the roof immediately after buying it.
"If the kids wouldn't break the windows, it wouldn't be so bad," he said.
Geissinger said he's doing what he can.
"I could have walked away from it," he said. "And the town would have another burden."