Blighted Or An Eyesore?

Suggestions to the Warren County Blight Review Committee and the Redevelopment Authority (RDA) that some properties should be listed as blighted included reasons like lack of siding or other improvements.

“It’s an eyesore,” and others were rejected by board members.

John Zavinski, chairman of the authority, said, “Blight is not cosmetic.”

Warren County Chief Clerk Pam Matve agreed, saying “That’s not what this board is here for.”

A house that badly needs a paint job is not blighted.

So what constitutes blight?

In Warren County, 12 municipalities have adopted an ordinance that defines blight, and the procedures for addressing it. The ordinances are identical for each township or borough, according to Dan Glotz, Warren County planning director.

They are based on Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Cooperation Law Act of May 24, 1945.

The ordinance spells out the requirements to meet the legal definition of blight.

To begin with, a property must be vacant.

Blight designation may not be used to take away someone’s home.

The ordinance lists criteria for blight designation, any one of which is enough to begin the process, although Glotz said that there are almost always multiple items meeting the requirements.

The list includes:

Physical condition is a public nuisance in accordance with local housing, building, fire and related codes.

Any premises which have, by physical condition use or occupancy is considered an attractive nuisance to children.

Any dwelling that is dilapidated, unsafe, vermin-infested or lacking in requirements for housing codes and has been designated as unsafe for human habitation.

Any structure that is a fire hazard or is otherwise dangerous to the safety of people or property.

Any structure without utilities, plumbing, heating sewerage or other facilities rendering it unfit for it’s intended use.

Any vacant or unimproved lot or parcel of ground in a predominantly built up neighborhood, which by reason of neglect or lack of maintenance has become a place of accumulation of trash and debris or a haven for rodents or other vermin.

Any unoccupied property which has been tax delinquent for a period of two years.

Any vacant property that has not been rehabilitated within one year of notice to do so by an appropriate county official or board.

Any abandoned property that has a municipal lien for the cost of demolition that is unpaid for six months; or if the total of municipal liens for tax or any other type of claim exceeds 150 percent of the fair market value; or if the property has been declared abandoned by the owner, including an estate that possesses the property.

Municipal officials have a checklist form to fill out, which includes information about the property and owner, a space to write a brief narrative on the property’s condition, and a number of yes or no questions that reflect the criteria listed in the ordinance.

Once a township supervisor or borough official believes a property is blighted, the owner is notified that he or she has 30 days to correct the condition. If the situation is not resolved, the matter is turned over to the Warren County Blighted Review Committee, which insures that everything has been done according to the letter of the law.

Paul Pascuzzi, chairman of the committee, said they make sure all the “t’s have been crossed and the i’s have been dotted” before turning it over to the RDA.

Glotz said the committee has no enforcement authority, so it turns it over to the authority. The RDA has the “teeth” to take actions necessary to address and remove the blight, he added.

Pascuzzi and Glotz both agreed that the function of the county agencies is solely to address and remove blight.