Sunday, August 14, 2011

Beating Back Blight: The City Takes On Easton's Ongoing Plight of Rundown and Vacant Buildings

Mayor Panto at the press conference on the city's new anti-blight initiative,
surrounded by poster boards of blighted properties now on Easton's hit list.

Posted by: Noël Jones

I am posting this more as a preview of the future post to come. I am working on a more in-depth story on the code enforcement process in our city, and all the variables involved, from residents, to code officers, to elected judges, to state lawmakers.

But for now, the two articles posted in our local papers will give you an overview of Mayor Panto's new program to combat blight and vacant properties. The most disturbing and confusing part of the press conference (pictured above), and what is not covered in these articles, was hearing Planning & Codes Director, Becky Bradley, describe how long, tedious and cumbersome the code enforcement process is--as dictated by state law (and at the mercy of the fines levied by elected judges)--and how there is a danger, unless state law changes, of exhausting the city's resources enforcing penalties on offenders:

Easton Targets Dozens of Vacant Properties by Ed Sieger
Your Comments: Vacancy ordinance is needed to get tough on owners by ET staff
The Morning Call:
Easton Targets Rundown Properties by Adam Clark

The plan basically involves 38 properties that have either been officially designated as blighted, or are candidates for the city's vacant properties list for the "Clean It or Lein It" program. More on this later. In the meantime, the articles above have photos and addresses of all the properties that the city is taking on. The hope is not to  fine them all, or take away their properties via the lien process or eminent domain (although that could eventually happen if property owners don't comply), but rather the city is hoping to inspire property owners to spend their own money fixing up their properties and maintaining them at an acceptable level.

Maybe it was just coincidence, but the owner of one of the properties targeted on Ferry Street, across from my house, was out working on his place the very next day after these articles came out.

Stayed tuned for a more in-depth article on this blog, and I am interested to hearing from residents who have had trouble (or success) with code-enforcement in recent years. Please post your comments here, and/or email me at I want to hear your story! 


Julie Zando-Dennis said...

Thank you and Becky Bradley for getting tough on these properties. It will make a positive difference to the neighborhoods, and will save historic buildings that are being damaged by neglect.

Anonymous said...

Kudos Mayor, I know you helped me in my neighborhood but this all out war is what is needed. Keep the pressure on PLEASE.

Anonymous said...

Have a parade that goes by each of these properties!!!

Ken Sturzenacker said...

Will anyone figure out that these properties are rundown and vacant and whatever else is deemed 'bad' even with all the laws on the books?
Encourage Easton to run an experiment for the next several years. Get out of the punishment mode, and into an incentive mode:
Dollar for dollar credits against property taxes, for example, for amounts spent by owners or investors to fix up properties.
The costs of ownership are high enough without gov't hovering over you looking for an excuse to write you a ticket and fine you.

Ken Sturzenacker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dennis R. Lieb said...

Hi Ken,

I'm not sure many conservative readers would agree with your tactic. Investment properties are just that - investments. When people think they can be involved in the business of property management and real estate finance/planning without any training we have what is called a bail-out situation.

Bad investment and no skill would be hard to justify as legitimate reasoning to abate taxes just so we can give people who already screwed up with their own money another chance to screw up with ours.

I've been in real estate since 1994 and a landlord in Easton since 2005. I treat it like a profession. When I screw up I pay the consequences. There is no more room for second, third and fourth chances for our amateur property investors in Easton. Time to apply the screws to them.

I have no idea whether the city's new plan will be any more effective, time consuming or costly than what came before it. The proof will be in the pudding I guess.


noel jones said...

Ken--I deleted your second comment because it was a duplicate--just wanted readers to know--thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I believe the city made it very clear that it would much rather work with property owners than fine them. They said that they don't have an incentive to fine an owner becasue they don't even get the money.

What I realize from all of this is that these blighted properties are not only a dis-ncentive for good families buying a home in these neighborhoods or visitors looking badly on our commercial ditrict, what I realized is that it takes a lot of city time and resources to constantly battle with these owners - some of whom haven't done a thing in decades.

noel jones said...

Anon 7:33--absolutely correct. The mayor said at the press conference that the city's hope is for compliance--not to have to enforce penalties and take over properties themselves. The city is genuinely trying to work with property owners before taking any punitive action.

The guy across from my house has a blighted property and has barely touched it in the 4 1/2 years I've lived here. He was out working on it the day after the article about the press conference came out in the local papers.

If everyone responds that way, we'll be looking good soon.