Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Do something about the empty storefronts

Tired of those abandoned storefronts and empty properties in Chestnut Hill?

Business and the economy are tough but many of these properties owners just don’t want to rent their properties, for tax and other reasons. a lot of those properties were empty or left to nature long before this economic downturn. Such properties detract from the neighborhood and the quality of life in Chestnut Hill. Many residents feel hopeless or frustrated. Delores Campbell expressed her concerns in this week’s Local. Perhaps there is something you can do.

The Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act was passed by the legislature and signed into effect by Governor Rendell. This act allows citizens to petition courts to appoint conservators to essentially take over property that has been abandoned or left vacant in order to make repairs when the owner refuses to or can’t do so. The passage of this bill was part of a 13 year effort by Allegheny representative Don Walko.

The bill provides a measure of relief to communities with long empty buildings and those that violate building codes. Petitions can be made regarding any abandoned, substandard and deteriorating residential, commercial, and industrial properties.

But the bill also provides a broader opportunity for communities to take action on such properties. The bill applies not to just those buildings in technical violation of the residential codes, but also those that are not in accordance with “standards of public welfare, or safety.”
A petition of conservatorship would be filed with the Court of Common Pleas. To file a petition, you must be a party of interest, which includes anyone with a legal interest but also any resident or business owner within 500 feet of the property.

However, it is not as simple as it initially appears and may require moving the municipality to act initially within its enforcement capacity. Any petition filed must include a citation of a violation or a declaration that the property is a public nuisance. Whether the City of Philadelphia will actually act on violations reported will have to be seen.

The petitioner must recommend a person or entity as a conservator. A plan for and estimated costs of rehabilitation must also be presented to the court. The owner must be notified of the petition by registered or certified mail.

Writers of the bill were concerned that the petitions would languish in court and the property would continue to detract from the community. To prevent this, the writers of the act included provisions requiring the court to hold a hearing within 90 days and issue a decision within 30 days of the hearing.

Any interested party may participate in the hearing and support the petition.

A court must grant the petition and appoint a conservator if it finds two of the following:
1) it is a public nuisance.
2) the building needs rehabilitation and none has taken place within 12 months.
3) the building is unfit for human habitation.
4) there is risk of fire to it or adjacent buildings.
5) the building is subject to unauthorized entry leading to health and safety concerns.
6) it is an attractive nuisance to children.
7) on the property is vermin, uncut vegetation or hazardous physical deterioration.
8) the appearance of condition of the property negatively affects the economic well-being of the community.

The Chestnut Hill Community Association and Chestnut Hill Business Association would both also qualify as possible conservators. These organizations as well as individuals in the community can file petitions. For more information, visit the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania website.

Darlene Heep

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