Northeast Times

Vacant and dangerous

What’s left: This house in Nor­mandy was once a show­place, but now is only a shell after a fire in Janu­ary. The city plans to de­mol­ish the house, cit­ing it as a safety haz­ard. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

As Night­in­gale Road res­id­ent Den­ise Schulz stood in her drive­way and looked at the scene next door, she saw something in her neigh­bor’s back yard that gave her pause.

“Girls, I don’t think you should be in there,” Schulz called to a young girl who had some­how got­ten through a cyc­lone fence the city had put up the day be­fore and was on the ad­ja­cent prop­erty. Wide-eyed, the girl, about 12 years old, stopped in her tracks, turned and ran to­ward her friends out­side the fence.

The girls had been walk­ing along the new bar­ri­er on March 27, look­ing for a place to squeeze through or climb over to get onto the long-va­cant prop­erty at 2815 Nor­mandy Road, which was des­troyed by fire on Jan. 24. Only a shell re­mains of what had once been a show­place when the de­vel­op­ment was new.

“It was a Nor­mandy sample home,” Night­in­gale Road neigh­bor Donna Caristo said in an in­ter­view.

Now va­cant for at least three years, the home at­trac­ted prob­lems, and loc­al res­id­ents have tried to get something done about what they called a neigh­bor­hood nuis­ance.  Like houses on oth­er streets throughout the city, once a home be­comes va­cant and the prop­erty be­comes run down, it can be­come hard to get any­thing done about it. The prop­erty turns in­to a sore point for neigh­bors wor­ried about safety haz­ards, van­dal­ism and dam­age to their own prop­erty val­ues.

In this case, something is fi­nally be­ing done. The house at 2815 Nor­mandy will be sub­ject to city de­moli­tion by April 30 if the own­er doesn’t step up be­fore then, said Maura Kennedy, spokes­wo­man for the city’s De­part­ment of Li­censes & In­spec­tions.

The place has been va­cant for three to five years, neigh­bors said. And al­though there are oth­er va­cant homes in Nor­mandy, a small neigh­bor­hood of less than 500 house­holds just east of the Boulevard between Comly and Wood­haven roads, 2815 Nor­mandy has been, per­haps, more ob­vi­ous than oth­ers. It’s a large corner prop­erty on the neigh­bor­hood’s main street. School buses stop nearby, and there’s a pub­lic mail­box out front.  

When it was oc­cu­pied, the prop­erty used to be no­ticed — and ap­pre­ci­ated.

With its large yard and in-ground pool, it was “a pic­ture-per­fect back yard,” when it was owned by the Keefe fam­ily, Schulz said.

“When the old own­ers had it, it was like a coun­try club. … It went down­hill rather quickly,” after the Keefes moved out, she said.

City re­cords list Jorge Oy­ola Jr. as the prop­erty’s own­er. Neigh­bors say he lived there for a few years after pur­chas­ing the house in late 2006, but left the prop­erty some­time dur­ing the last three to five years. 

The North­east Times was un­able to con­tact Oy­ola for com­ment. He has no lis­ted phone num­ber in Phil­adelphia. Kennedy said the city also has tried to con­tact Oy­ola by mail, but has not heard from him. The only ad­dress the city has for Oy­ola is 2815 Nor­mandy. Kennedy said the city’s in­ten­tion to tear down the house has been pos­ted on the prop­erty.

Al­though the prop­erty has been va­cant, its real es­tate taxes have been paid. 

No one has lived there per­man­ently since Oy­ola left, but the prob­lems have been non-stop, neigh­bors said. 

“It at­tracts kids,” said Schulz, who has lived on an abut­ting prop­erty for 25 years.

When the house be­came va­cant, kids would skate­board in the empty pool, she said.

“You name it, they did it in that house,” said Caristo. Cop­per plumb­ing as been swiped, win­dows have been broken and some­body even poured ce­ment in­to sinks and toi­lets, she said.

Caristo has lived with a view of 2815 Nor­mandy since 1962, she said, and has seen the prop­erty go from one ex­treme to an­oth­er. 

Schulz and her daugh­ter, Dev­in, said that, after Oy­ola moved out, people would use the prop­erty for parties. “They’d just throw some chlor­ine in the pool,” Schulz said of the people who would show up, party and leave.

The noisy parties stopped more than a year ago, Caristo said.

Neigh­bor Al Barth said kids have been run­ning in and out of the place and party­ing there, too, and then there’s the wild-er life.

“Skunks and rac­coons,” he said.

When the house be­came va­cant, Caristo said, she thought it was just a mat­ter of time be­fore it would burn.

Barth said he re­por­ted the Jan. 24 fire, which he de­scribed as in­tense. A video of the fire pos­ted on You­Tube is a test­a­ment to how in­tense. In the video, the build­ing can’t even be seen be­cause of the flames.

“The lawn was on fire,” said John Wis­niewski, pres­id­ent of the Nor­mandy Civic As­so­ci­ation.

Civic as­so­ci­ation mem­bers re­peatedly have com­plained to po­lice and loc­al of­fi­cials about the prop­erty.

“We’ve com­plained to any­one who would listen,” Wis­niewski said March 28. 

The com­plaints were heard. Act­ing on neigh­bors’ gripes and the ur­gings of Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill (R-10th), the prop­erty re­peatedly has been cleaned up and fi­nally boarded up.

“It’s just a severe pub­lic nuis­ance,” said O’Neill, who said his staff has been hand­ling com­plaints about the prop­erty for sev­er­al years. “It’s been an eye­sore and a prob­lem.”

Nu­mer­ous vi­ol­a­tions for high weeds, stag­nant wa­ter, aban­doned cars, rub­bish and un­se­cured win­dows are cited on L&I’s Web site. The Com­munity Life Im­prove­ment Pro­gram took care of those prob­lems, and there is an out­stand­ing bill for more than $13,000 for CLIP’s work that’s been sent to a col­lec­tion agency, ac­cord­ing to Deputy Man­aging Dir­ect­or Thomas Con­way.

Kristine Owens, who lives sev­en houses away, said the teens she’s seen party­ing in the va­cant house had kicked holes in the walls. 

“It makes us sick,” she said. “We can see right through it.”

John Del Ricci, an aide to Coun­cil­man James Ken­ney (D-at large), said he’s been hear­ing beefs about 2815 Nor­mandy for years, too, and so has 8th disttrict Lt. John Boyle.

The fire, however, has made the prop­erty more than a nuis­ance. The city now re­gards it as “im­min­ently dan­ger­ous.”

“It’s burned bey­ond re­pair,” Kennedy said in an in­ter­view on March 25.

O’Neill on March 25 said he asked L&I to put a fence around the in-ground pool and then around the whole prop­erty to re­duce its ac­cess­ib­il­ity. The fence went up the next day, neigh­bors said.

If the city tears down 2815 Nor­mandy, it will put a li­en on the prop­erty to col­lect the de­moli­tion costs, Kennedy said. She couldn’t say ex­actly what those will be, she said, but ad­ded the av­er­age cost of knock­ing down a two-story Phil­adelphia row house is about $15,000.

The fire was in­vest­ig­ated by the fire mar­shal, but the cause is un­deter­mined, Ex­ec­ut­ive Fire Chief Richard Dav­is­on wrote in a March 21 e-mail to the North­east Times

Even re­du­cing the house to a burned husk hasn’t stopped the van­dal­ism. Owens said in a March 21 phone in­ter­view that new graf­fiti ap­peared after the Jan. 24 fire. ••

Fire on the Net  

The You­Tube video of the Jan. 24 fire at 2815 Nor­mandy Road can be found at ht­tp://www.you­tube.com/watch?v=nc4c0kzfJ_8

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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