Vacant and damaged properties were a primary focus of last week’s meeting of the Port Richmond Community Group, including discussion of state Rep. John Taylor’s (R-177th dist.) efforts to combat blight, a possible new future for the empty St. Anne’s school building and the need for a costly study to address repair of the deteriorating pier at Port Richmond’s Pulaski Park.
City Councilman Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.), who is quickly becoming a familiar face because of his appearances at events throughout the riverwards, also was on hand for the session.
Taylor’s plan to tackle blight could have the biggest impact on the riverwards. He’s using the state’s Act 135 — the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act, which became law in 2008 — to try to transform vacant properties into active, usable housing.
“What we owe to you (as taxpayers) is actually seeing these properties converted,” Taylor said during the March 29 meeting at Our Lady Help of Christians Church, Allegheny Avenue and Gaul Street. “We are teed up and ready to go on this thing.”
Using Act 135, Taylor said, the community can go to court to determine a use for vacant and blighted properties.
In some cases, he added, the city will not seize a property for not paying its taxes after 50 years. That’s five decades where properties can sit blighted and vacant in the middle of vibrant city blocks.
It happens, Taylor said, when the property owner dies and the family doesn’t create an estate to manage the property.
“If you don’t create an estate, the city can’t do anything. And we can’t do anything to the property until the city takes it,” he said, noting that Mayor Michael Nutter and local legislators are trying to change that. “This administration and this City Council have been very involved in trying to fix that.”
Explaining that ACT 135 allows neighbors to “make a case for taking that land,” Taylor said the process of taking back a property essentially protects both the neighborhood and the owner of the abandoned property.
To simplify, if the property is taken through this process, a renovation plan must be brought to court. Also, a buyer for the repaired property — who will pay repair costs, taxes and any outstanding bills on the property — must be found.
If the court rules that the property can be taken, restorations can begin. Throughout the process, the owner must be contacted, but in many cases, that owner is deceased, Taylor said. That means a community trying to take back a property would have to reach out to the family; during the process, either the owner or the surviving family would be permitted to pay for repairs and related costs to reclaim the property.
ldquo;That’s not going to happen, because in almost every case, the owner is long dead,” said Taylor. “But we can’t go through this process and ‘steal’ it.”
Yet when the property is rehabbed and sold — at market value — the funds would still be the property of the original owner. The proceeds would be held in a state fund for potential collection by the former owner — if that person ever makes a claim.
Through the process, Taylor said, neighbors would be able to improve their community and get a house into the hands of a family that wants to be a contributing part of the neighborhood.
As he discussed the process, Taylor brought up the troubles that a Fishtown family had with a home next door.
The Tepper family (featured in a Sept. 14 Star story, Living next to a nightmare) was living on Sergeant Street near Trenton Avenue and encountered problems with the appearance of the adjoining house when its owner died.
Since the Star’s coverage of that situation, Taylor’s office has started the necessary legal proceedings with the city’s registrar of wills to appoint an executor and get the property sold to a responsible owner.
St. Anne’s to survive?
Taylor turned his attention to other vacant properties during the meeting — in particular, the former St. Anne’s school building at 2343 E. Tucker St. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed the school last year, but there is archdiocesan support for a plan that could see it become a charter school, Taylor said.
The benefits of the idea?
Any charter that hopes to rent the St. Anne’s campus would have to pay the archdiocese about $180,000 to $250,000 annually to use the building, he said. Also, local children would be able to attend the charter school free of charge.
“It’s just a proposal, it’s not reality yet,” Taylor said.
Stay off Pulaski Pier
Also during the meeting, Patty-Pat Kozlowski, of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, discussed the deteriorating pier at Pulaski Park, along the river at Allegheny Avenue and Richmond Street.
“Stay off the pier,” she said flatly, noting that a fence erected to keep people out has been cut at least four times.
She said the pier, a popular fishing spot in the neighborhood, is going to need a $50,000 study to determine how it can be repaired. In her role with the Port Richmond On Patrol and Civic Group, Kozlowski said, she is trying to figure out ways to afford that fee.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money, but we need to find out how to fix it first,” she said of the pier.
“We don’t want anyone to fall in the river. We don’t want another Pier 34,” she continued, referring to the pier collapse near Penn’s Landing in May 2000 that killed three female patrons of a popular nightspot.
The pier at Pulaski Park is now protected by a full-time security guard to keep the public away.
Show your Port Richmond pride
During last week’s meeting, PRCG unveiled a plan to create new Port Richmond flags for the neighborhood. The group is seeking community submissions — from anyone, not just artists, noted Therese Costello, PRCG president — to determine what the flags might look like.
Proposed flag designs will be accepted until May 31.
A design for the flag should be presented on an 8-1/2x11-inch sheet of paper; include your name, address and phone number, and mail the entry to the Port Richmond Flag Contest, care of PRCG and PROPAC, 3501 E. Gaul St., Philadelphia, PA 19134.
Star managing editor Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org