Residents demand action on dilapidated properties
CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Lansford resident Mary Ellen Ogozalek asks borough council to be more aggressive in pursuing the owners of neglected properties.
Lansford resident Mary Ellen Ogozalek works hard to keep her East Bertsch Street home well-maintained and looking nice, neat and clean.
But a few doors away, at 238 E. Bertsch St., sits a home where weeds and grass grow high, siding is missing from the front and debris litters the back yard.
Borough Code Enforcement Officer Katheryn Labosky has cited the owner, Niz Kamal, who has the home in the name of Lowicz North Properties, LLC., Jersey City, N.J., 101 times. Kamal has since cut the weeds and done some cleanup work, but the house remains problematic.
On Wednesday, Ogozalek joined dozens of other residents at a public borough council meeting to demand action on what they say are far too many dilapidated properties in the town.
"When do we say enough is enough with the citations" and move forward, she asked.
The answer isn't simple or easy. It costs the borough money and time to issue the citations and follow them through court proceedings. Often, the property owner simply pays the fines and continues business as usual. Other times, they appeal the citations, forcing the borough to spend more time and money to pursue the case through the court system, Labosky said. In other cases, absentee owners do not respond to certified mail.
She's preparing for another court date with Kamal.
Ogozalek and others complained that it seems as though owners of rundown and neglected properties get all the breaks.
"The taxpayers' rights need to be respected," Ogozalek said to enthusiastic applause.
Lansford Concerned Citizen President Rita McIntyre Klekamp again appeared before council to demand answers - and action. Two weeks ago, she presented a list of queries concerning the progress of work on the mold-infested borough hall and other matters.
There's not been much progress, council President Adam Webber said. But council has taken steps to seek bids to replace the leaking roof. Webber said he is reading recent legislation aimed at making it easier for municipalities to pursue the assets of the owners of neglected properties.
Klekamp said she understands Labosky is doing her best.
"Katheryn is run ragged with citations," she said. "We need to do something, not just talk about it." She urged council to develop an action plan.
That's a great idea, Councilwoman Mary Kruczek said. But it takes money to take errant property owners to court.
"We don't have a money tree in the back yard," she said.
Solicitor Michael Greek suggested that council form a committee to meet regularly with Labosky to discuss deteriorated buildings and how their owners are responding - or not - to citations. Council may also consider beefing up its property maintenance ordinances.
Klekamp also detailed derelict properties on Ridge Street, the town's business section. They included the former Elks building, the former Ridge Center at 116 W. Ridge St. and the neighboring property at 118 W. Ridge St.
Labosky said she has been citing the owner of that property, Ridge Street Holdings LLC, of Naples, Florida, but has not gotten any response or cooperation. She said she would continue to cite the owner.
According to Florida Department of State records, the corporation's principal is Sandford C. Thalheimer.
Klekamp also mentioned the Panther Valley Mini Mall on Ridge street. Owner David Benevy has replaced broken windows and is refurbishing the overhang, which Klekamp complained was shedding old paint.
Benevy wrote to council concerning vacant buildings.
"The building at 118 West Ridge constitutes a clear and present danger to pedestrians. It is owned by Scott Dobrin, and I have left him voice-mail messages regarding its condition. Nothing has been done to remedy the condition. Its windows were broken during the recent hail storm, and glass fell on the street. Loose pieces of glass remain in the windows and could fall at any time. Such falling glass could quite conceivably kill a baby in a baby carriage passing along the street," he wrote.
"To my knowledge, no enforcement action has been taken by the Borough. Minimally, the Borough has a moral responsibility, if not a legal one, to protect its citizens. Yellow taping off the area and creating a safe walk around area by blocking off the parking in front of the building would be inexpensive, easy to do, and could save someone's life or prevent serious injury. Better still would be to use a bucket truck, and knock the loose glass from the broken windows back into the building. To do nothing would risk having the consequences of a death or serious injury rest on your collective conscious.
Benevy also said parts of the roof of the Elks building are falling off on the Patterson Street side.
"This is another building that needs enforcement action before someone is hurt or killed," he said.
Resident Samantha Yasson asked council how many empty storefronts there are in town, and whether the borough has any kind of incentive program to encourage small business. Webber said he has counted at least 19 vacant shops, and that the borough has no money to offer an incentive program.
In a related matter, Labosky's son, Lee, asked council to publicly commend the owners of properties that have been restored or renovated. They include Marco's Pizza, AmeriPrise Financial and the owner of 330 W. Ridge St.
Council accepted the suggestion.