Keeping up the ‘blight fight’ throughout the riverwards

Loc­al of­fi­cials re­cently dis­cussed the tools they are us­ing to fight blight, as well as, St. Anne’s pos­sible fu­ture as a charter school and the de­teri­or­at­ing state of the pier at Pu­laski Park.

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 hmit­


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