2014-07-15 Work Session Minutes

TUESDAY, JULY 15, 2014

Council met for a work session on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 in Council Chambers. The work session began at 6:20 p.m.

In attendance were Council President Jack Mundie, Council Vice President Jean Mope, and Council Members Jeff Cusat and David Sosar. Council Member Keith Bast was absent.

Mark Rabo, 8 West 1st Street, Hazleton said there was an article in the newspaper regarding condemned, blighted and nuisance properties in Hazleton on April 13, 2011. He read a portion of that newspaper article aloud. Rabo said the article stated that the Blighted Property Committee will work throughout the City, but its initial targeted focus would be from Cedar Street eastward to Hazleton General Hospital, and from Broad Street south to Noble Street in the Hazleton Heights. He stated the procedure for becoming a blighted property. The Redevelopment Authority has the option of taking possession of an officially blighted property for rehabilitation or demolition as grant money becomes available. He said that this shows that the Mayor knows who should be on the Blighted Building Committee. He commented that the Mayor’s “political allies” were on this committee at that time, and this explains why much was not done to suppress the blight conditions in the City. He obtained meeting minutes from the Redevelopment Authority from 2011 to 2013. He said these minutes prove that the state’s certification process was done incorrectly. Rabo said that the process to certify blight, as indicated in the Urban Development Law, is that the Blighted Property Review Committee evaluates if the property meets the definition of blight based upon the criteria in the statute. If the owner refuses to make corrective repairs on a property identified as blighted, the Redevelopment Authority may proceed to condemn the property after conferring with the appropriate Planning Commission and Blighted Property Review Committee. The Blighted Property Review Committee with representation from the City Council, the Mayor, the Planning Commission, and the Redevelopment Authority is responsible for determining and certifying properties as blighted making them eligible for the Redevelopment Authority acquisition. The state identifies 11 criteria as blight and a property needs to meet only one condition to qualify as blighted. Rabo said under Title 35, Section 1712.1, a blighted property in Pennsylvania must meet one of the following criteria: (1) public nuisance, (2) attractive nuisance to children, (3) accumulation of trash and debris or a haven for vermin, (4) unfit for human habitation, (5) fire hazard, (6) lack of water, gas or other utilities, (7) tax delinquent for two years and vacant, (8) vacant and not code compliant within a year of receiving a notices of violation, (9) abandoned property with municipal liens exceeding 150% of value; (10) defective or unusual condition of title, and (11) environmentally hazardous conditions or contamination. Rabo said condemnation can be paid through by community development block grants or NSP funds, if the acquisition of the property will address serious public health or safety issues, or through general operating budget funds. He stated the latter stages of eminent domain are costly. Early hearings and notices to owners are not. Rabo stated that the Redevelopment Authority must be prepared to follow through and to complete the condemnation when the owner fails to take action. He stated this tool allows the Redevelopment Authority to gain clear title and control of blighted properties where blight negatively affects surrounding communities. Although eminent domain proceedings are costly and is unpopular with the public, it has been very effective at motivating the owners of the blighted properties to make corrective repairs. Owners are given several notices of potential condemnation and almost a year to bring their properties up to code. If the property is still not up to code, the Redevelopment Authority can pay fair market value for the property based on an appraisal. The process to condemn a property takes 12 to 18 months. After a municipality decides that a property may meet the definition of blight, it sends a letter to the owner. If the owner fails to respond adequately, a notice of determination hearing is sent to the owner. The evidence of blight is given to the Blighted Property Review Committee at the hearing. If the Committee determines that a property is blighted, a determination order is sent to the owner, and a certification hearing will be held within 60 days. If the property is declared blighted at the certification hearing, a determination order is sent to the owner. The Redevelopment Authority then issues a Declaration of Taking and a statutory offer to pay a specific amount for the property. The property owner has 20 days to object. If no objection is received, the Redevelopment Authority’s Solicitor goes to the court to pay just compensation or the fair market value of the property and is granted a Writ of Possession. If the owner objects at this point, the case moves to the County Court of Common Pleas. If the owner does not object, the municipality owns the property once the check is sent to the property owner. If the owner objects at this point, the complaint goes to the Board of Views, but the owner may only dispute the fair market value of the property. This process will create a clear and consistent threat will compel other owners to be accountable. Rabo said this process is costly and must be deployed strategically. He said that Allentown and its Redevelopment Authority devote priority to properties which have been declared unfit for human habitation, properties located around the central city neighborhoods, properties in areas where the city’s inspectors are conducting inspections so that these acquisitions can complement the inspection process. A few other tools being given to municipalities to combat blight have been coming from the State House and Senate Urban Affairs Committee. He said one was passed a few weeks ago by Senator Argall, which would allow the Chief to go to PennDOT and have the property owner’s license suspended for 90 days for serious code violations. This bill, Senate Bill 1420, is currently in the State House of Representatives. Rabo stated that House Bill 2120 will amend Act 90 that would allow for the closing of the loophole for out-of-state landlords to use a dummy corporation, private trust, or property manager to hide behind. He said these laws could be used to deal with the City’s condemned or vacant properties. Mope asked if the bills were passed yet. Rabo responded that one which would allow for grants to be provided for code enforcement training was passed to the Governor, but he vetoed the funding for this. Sosar said all of these committees need to work in conjunction with one another, and communicate with one another. He added that all of these committees need to stay up on the new laws and new powers that are being given. He said this is not a quick fix, but it is a fix. Sosar asked that this information be forwarded to Council so that they can “digest” it, and they can start to put some of this together. The current administration is not attentive to at least half of the groups that we are talking about now. Sosar commented that these groups need to be put together to get something done and fix this City. Rabo said that every year since 2011, one hundred and fifty properties have gone vacant. There is also a serious problem with condemned properties as well. Sosar stated that there are many things going on in this City that Council and the people here are trying to deal with. He said they want to try and put some type of policies together and they could use Rabo’s help. Rabo he said Council should try to work with the people on the boards. If they do not know how the process works, then they should get information or training on what to do. Sosar asked where the training would come from. Rabo responded DCED and the local government services provided by the Governor’s office. Sosar said the individuals on these boards need to do their due diligence and stay informed on what they need to be doing. Rabo said there was a Planning Commission meeting held on February 23, 2005, where there was a plan introduced by the Redevelopment Authority to designate lots that were part of a redevelopment plan. Mr. Dougherty reviewed the process to declare those properties to be taken by eminent domain, which included the former Powell building and the Reinhardt building. Rabo said that shows that it was done in the past and there was a plan in place. He added that this information is found in the Urban Redevelopment Law passed by the State of Pennsylvania.

Dee Deakos, 43 West Mine Street, Hazleton said she believes the City took out a big loan many years ago to purchase the light poles and lights. She asked why we need an agreement with PPL to put things on the poles if we own them. DeAndrea said we do not own the poles that we are looking to put this equipment on. He added that all of the poles on Alter Street belong to PPL. DeAndrea said that without this agreement in place, PPL will not even examine the poles to allow the City to legally hang any attachment on any of their poles. He stated these are not streetlight poles. They are the wooden PPL poles that do not have arc lights on all of them that carry the power lines. DeAndrea said that PPL owns the poles even though the telephone company and the cable company run their lines across them. PPL will not come out and authorize them without this agreement in place. He said he cannot continue with the surveillance camera project if this agreement is not in place. He said that there are a number of poles that the City owns, as per the City Engineer, but there are a lot that we do not own. DeAndrea said that the wooden poles are commonly referred to as telephone poles, but they carry power. He said the City owns the metal poles with the attached arc lights. DeAndrea added that we own the arc lights that are attached to the wooden poles. He said PPL knows which poles they own and which they do not. He said there should already be a pole attachment agreement with PPL because we hang things on their poles all the time. But, there is no agreement on record. Deakos said there should be an inventory of the poles the City owns, and DeAndrea said we already have that. Mope asked that Council receive a copy of the inventory of the poles. Sosar asked if the City is in violation by putting up flags, Christmas decorations, etc., on these poles. DeAndrea responded no. Sosar asked if this is part of the holdup on Alter Street of the installation of the surveillance cameras. DeAndrea said they are working on the infrastructure. They are going to run cabling, antennas from City Hall, etc., and then come out to Alter and 15th Streets, and Diamond Avenue and Cedar Street. Mope asked about the different signs that are attached to the poles. DeAndrea responded that PPL is not talking about that kind of attachment. He said that according to the person he is dealing with at PPL, they have gone to a new computer system, they are updated records, and they have changed the language on the entire attachment agreement. So, they are making every municipality have a new attachment agreement signed, even if you had an old one in the past. Mope asked if this will address anything and everything that are on the poles. DeAndrea said PPL explained to him that from the date of this application moving forward, if we want to hang something on their poles, we need to contact PPL and have them assess the pole first. They are not saying that anything already there is an issue. Mope asked about giving this information to Frank Vito, Highway Department Foreman, as well. DeAndrea said he discusses that with him every week at the staff meeting. Deakos commented on Resolution 2014-84. She said it states on the attachment that Mary Ellen Lieb is the Acting City Administrator, and it should be corrected. She said it is dated July 10, 2014. DeAndrea said the original submission date for this was in 2011, and that is why Lieb is listed. Sosar asked if this was all “grandfather” in. Sosar added that he would rather just list titles instead of names to avoid confusion. Deakos said if the Mayor is signing this, then it should be listed correctly. Mope agreed. She said she would also like to have just titles listed instead of names.

Mundie adjourned the work session at 6:45 p.m.

Select Language


Search Our Site