Published May 12. 2021 02:45PM
A frightening number of homes in Schuylkill County communities have collapsed in recent years, sending alarm bells off for residents who live in these coal-mining communities and for the officials who need to deal with their aftermath.
The bigger question is whether these are isolated incidents that have been bunched together through coincidence, or the manifestation of a much bigger and more concerning problem.
Aside from outright collapse, many other boroughs and townships are dealing with the problems of blight, unsightliness and uninhabitable properties.
As many frustrated municipal officials will tell you, getting property owners to do the right thing is often an exercise in futility. Sometimes contacting absent landlords requires an outsized effort and much persistence. Even then their efforts yield no success.
To take action against homeowners or landlords who refuse to comply with existing ordinances requires care and patience to ensure that the law is followed and that the municipality is not sued. This takes an inordinate amount of time and coordination. Too often impatient residents mistakenly accuse officials of inaction when their hands are tied by the complicated process.
Case in point: In my hometown of Summit Hill, borough council wrestled with the ongoing issue of a property which has now been labeled as a “safety issue.”
Council admitted that it doesn’t even know who owns the property, and that in itself presents a huge problem. Of course, neighbors would love to have a wrecking crew go in and knock down the dilapidated place, but, of course, life is not that simple.
This property has been an on-and-off topic among officials for years. The borough condemned the property more than two years ago, but at last month’s council meeting, a council member made this understatement: We need to do something about this.
More ideas about how to proceed were tossed out, but, in the end, council members took no decisive action, so this “safety issue” continues. You can conjure up any number of scenarios that might happen, none of them good.
Meanwhile, in the older boroughs of Schuylkill County, abandoned or unoccupied properties are collapsing. So far, no one has been hurt or injured, but if this problem is not addressed it will be just a matter of time before someone is.
The most recent incident occurred in mid-April in Mahanoy City when a building on East Centre Street came tumbling down. Neighbors said the building had been in disrepair for years and had been disintegrating for months.
Last August, a condemned building in Orwigsburg that once held a hair salon and three apartments collapsed about a month after having been condemned by borough officials. The building was located in the 100 block of South Liberty Street.
Also last August, part of a historic brick building on West Market Street in Pottsville’s Historic District collapsed.
Last July, a building partially collapsed on Sunbury Street in Minersville.
Two months before then, two double buildings collapsed in Girardville and fell into a building next to them which was occupied by three people, none of whom was injured.
Residents of Shenandoah are alarmed that several properties there that have been neglected for years are in danger of collapsing. Among them is the former Blind Bob’s Bar at Centre and White streets.
One property on South Grant Street in the borough collapsed in 2019. At the time, frustrated council member Gordon Slater acknowledged that there is no way of knowing when a property is going to fall down, because, he said, any house can fall at any given time.
Rural areas are not immune from blight. In March, the Eldred Township supervisors in Monroe County mulled over what to do with a home on Fiddletown Road that had been damaged in a fire in 2019. Should it be declared a dangerous property and ordered torn down, or can it be repaired? Township officials were concerned that someone could be injured because the building had not even been secured. At the April meeting the supervisors decided that the building was a dangerous property and ordered that it be torn down and removed within 60 days.
Blight affects all of us, not just the offender and surrounding property-owners. Neighborhood blight that includes vacant and abandoned properties has widespread negative impacts on its impacted communities. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, blighted properties decrease property values, erode the health of local housing markets, pose safety hazards and reduce local tax revenue.
So, if you live next to or near this type of property, who can blame you for getting angry or impatient, since these eyesores become a targets of vandals and dug deals and a haven for pests, infestations and other bad things.
By Bruce Frassinelli | [email protected]
The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.
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