Demolition Day In W-B
WILKES-BARRE — An excavator ripped through two Murray Street houses Friday, as the city continued an attack on blight with the first demolitions of the year.
Employees with Brdaric Excavating Inc. took down the long-abandoned single-family homes at 46 and 48 Murray St. The workers will also demolish a single-family home at 37 Murray St. next week. The demolition and debris removal will continue Monday through Wednesday.
Including the Murray Street properties, Mayor Tony George’s administration will have invested more than a quarter-million federal grant dollars to demolish 38 blighted units since he took office in 2016, Joyce Zaykowski, director of economic and community development, said Friday.
“The mayor and his administration do listen and, more importantly, hear the residents’ complaints,” Zaykowski said. “He is aware of everything that goes on and he does his best to address every need and concern within the community.”
Zaykowski said neighborhood residents complained about blight on Murray Street at several council meetings last year, and George “walked that street himself very soon after the very first complaint.”
The houses demolished Friday are owned by Joe Reisinger, according to tax records, and have been vacant for about 10 years. About seven years ago, they caught on fire and, as a result, became structurally unsound, Zaykowski said.
The house at 37 Murray St. “is actually owned by a lovely older woman who is legally blind, and the house became just too much for her to maintain. God bless her though, the last time I checked, she was up to date on her taxes, even though she did not live there,” Zaykowski said.
That house has been vacant about five years and, because it had not been maintained even several years prior to that, was deemed structurally unsound by an engineer, she said.
Zaykowski said the mayor developed “a wish list” of properties to be demolished based on residents’ complaints and then reached out to each council member for their input.
“We are just about through that list” and working to update it, she said.
Dealing with slum and blight is a difficult process as well as a balancing act.
“We can’t just take every (blighted) house down,” Zaykowski said, noting that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development “encourages keeping people in homes, not knocking them down.”
In addition, the city must follow legal procedures in order to demolish a blighted property. City employees must first issue citations and give the owners a certain amount of time to respond. The city also must obtain an engineer’s report to determine if a building is structurally sound.
“Depending on the report, we follow through on the HUD procedure to enable the Office of Economic and Community Development funds to be released for demolition of those said properties under slum and blight. The process can take up to three to four months from beginning to the time we put out for bid,” Zaykowski said.
After a property is razed, the city places a lien on the property for the cost of the demolition and any other outstanding taxes, citations or remaining balances.
Upcoming demolitions of units that have been deemed structurally unsound and that are under review by state officials are located on Kado and Academy streets, Zaykowski said, adding that she expects 10 to 12 units to be demolished this year.
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Demolitions done to date
The City of Wilkes-Barre will have demolished 38 structures at the following addresses and at the following costs since 2016.
333-335 E. Northampton St., $8,600
44-46 Terrace St., $18,000
139 N. Washington St., $400
141 N. Washington St., $6,000
57 Taft St., $7,700
19-21 Elizabeth St., $11,950
167-169 Almond Lane, $8,900
244-246 St. Clair St., $8,888
26-28-30 Sullivan St., $22,551
51-53 Prospect St., $11,361
150-154 Kidder St., $9,600
559-561 N. Pennsylvania Ave., $8,800
122-124 Spring St., $12,800
32-34 O’Neill Ave., $23,000
171 Scott St., $21,400
3 Auburn St., $6,800
39 S. Fulton St., $9,000
121-123 Academy St., $22,800
306-308 E. Northampton St., $41,250
240-242 Brown St., $15,500
37, 46 and 48 Murray St., $31,267