New Castle News: "City's Blight Team Continues its Plans"

March 16, 2018


A plan that could clear blight from city neighborhoods a block at a time could improve the image of New Castle.

Members of the city's Blight Action Team met with consultant Christopher Gulotta of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania to develop a plan to eliminate urban blight and repurpose dilapidated buildings and return them to them city's dwindling tax base. His services are available thought a grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development, available to Act 47 financially distressed cities.

Gulotta was told of the partnership announced last week with 10,000 Friends in Pennsylvania, two local banks and UPMC Foundation who committed $1.35 million to the South Side over the next six years.

Part of the partnership is a demolition plan to take down eight houses.

"We can clean out an area and start to develop it," said New Castle Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo. "Then we can see what happens."

"This is what you need to do," Gulotta agreed,. "Pick a one- or two-block area do what you need to do and move to the next. This will show that you can get things done and you'll be doing enough to make a difference."

Gulotta also reviewed top strategies identified at earlier meetings and the progress being made toward implementing them.

One suggestion was to get the attention of blighted building owners by issuing "tickets" to property owners whose buildings to not meet building code requirements as defined in the International Property Maintenance Code.

The current version of the code, issued in 2015, will be upgraded this year. Gulotta and city solicitor Jason Medure debated if the city will implement a "ticketing" ordinance now or wait until the new version is available and what see changes it includes.

Mastrangelo and Tim Fulkerson noted city council is about to update the abandoned building registration ordinance. This requires commercial property owners to inform city officials of buildings that have been empty for one year. Fees paid for this registration increase substantially each year the building sits vacant. Fulkerson said the ordinance has existed for a while but is not being enforced.

"We're hoping this will give more teeth to our code enforcement department and eradicate some of the problems in the city," he said.

Other strategies include

•Disqualifying tax sale bidders who have been convicted of code violations, own a unit with health and/or safety issues, are operating illegally or owes back taxes. Gulotta said county officials are open to this. He also recommended listing successful bidders and giving municipalities 15 days after the sale to petition the courts to void sales to habitual code violators.

•Land Bank. Gulotta recommended developing a side yard disposition program enabling responsible property owners to purchase adjacent land from the repository to be used to construct garages or house additions. He said 40 to 50 repository properties might be disposed of each year through this program. City officials pledged to work with the bar association or city engineer to find a way to obtain pro bono or reduced rates for surveys and legal descriptions for people participating in this program.

Through the land bank city officials could amass commercial properties to be used for redevelopment or to acquire tax-delinquent residential blocks to allow a comprehensive revitalization plan is underway, such as on the South Side.

Task force members also asked if state or other funds could be obtained to maintain repository properties.They said the city lacks resources to mow each property and county officials have said they do not own the properties listed in the repository

•Improve communications with district justices who deal with blight cases.

•Seek Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grants and other available state funding for city projects.

•Conservatorship which could give city access to properties to repair or demolish privately-owned buildings that have become blighted, then bill the owner for the work done.

•Charging repeat code violators with misdemeanors.

•Accepting blighted property in lieu of delinquent taxes.

•Encourage private development by extending to residential properties some of the tax abatements, now limited to commercial property improvements

•Develop a list of blighted properties, focusing on those with the best chance of redeelopment.


Reposted from New Castle News