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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vacant eyesores mar Saratoga neighborhoods

The fence keeps people off 69 Phila St., but not pigeons, who
obviously do their business on the porch.  
Living in walking distance to downtown Saratoga Springs evokes images of neighborhoods where people nod to passersby from the porches of lovely hundred-year-old homes.

And then there are houses like the one across the street from mine: vacant for decades (except for occasional street people and wildlife), with once-beautiful woodwork hopelessly decayed, long stretches of weeds poking through the rotted porch, and a shrubbery-shrouded side serving as an impromptu toilet for people headed home from the bars.

A law to discourage property from going to pot was adopted in February 2013. I’m trying to find out who it applies to and how it’s being enforced. Soon as I do, I’ll let you know.

The owners of 32 Park Place, uninhabited
for decades, said this will be their next project.

The monstrosity on my street is one of an estimated 50 vacant properties in Saratoga Springs – less than 1 percent of the parcels in the city, but eyesores that have been ignored with impunity for too long.

The owners of the house near mine, Helen and Harold Simpson, own other downtown properties. Two are vacant buildings on Phila Street that they hoped to split into three lots instead of two. The zoning board in 2005 reasonably rejected their request. Almost a decade later, the two boarded-up houses, with pigeon crap covering the porches, remain a disgusting reminder that nothing really prevents people from buying property and letting them go to seed.

Another reminder appeared in recent property transactions showing the same couple bought yet another empty downtown house, this one on High Rock Avenue, for $266,774. More property when other parcels are yet to be made habitable? I’ve complained to the city about the Park Place house as a private citizen, but the issue of property left to rot is really a public issue.

Last month, I sent the city a request for any records documenting complaints, city responses, inspections, violations, building permit requests – anything – related to the house on my street. A few days later, in what I was assured was strictly coincidence, the owner called me for the first time ever, with the news that they planned to pursue permits for renovations on Park Place this summer and suggesting I check out their latest completed projects on the West Side.

Then, about a week ago, I was bemoaning the presence of boarded-up houses with the head of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, who mentioned the city has a law requiring vacant properties to be registered. So I filed another request with the city, this time asking for all records pertaining to enforcement of the law. The city has acknowledged these requests and promises a response in accordance with the state Freedom of Information Law.

The city vacant property law, reportedly prompted by a fiasco on Franklin Street, in which a historically significant house deteriorated beyond repair, was adopted in February 2013. The law notes that vacant buildings “are likely to become both unsightly and unsafe (and) quickly develop a negative effect on their surrounding neighborhoods as well as on the entire city.” 

The law requires a $250 annual registration fee for each vacant residential structure (and $500 for non-residential), along with proof of safety inspections, a written intentions for the premises and other information. Owners are supposed to register on their own or within 30 days of getting a notice to do so from the city. Scofflaws face a penalty.

Is anyone registered? I’ll keep you posted on the city’s answers. And if you know of any vacant property that ought to be registered, please email me


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent battle to take up. The houses on Phila are a disgrace to downtown Saratoga. Park Place is no better, but at least it's not on one of the most highly traveled streets in town. And then there are the lived in houses owned by the same owners on Caroline that have been in a state of half completed renovations for at least 4 years.

June 12, 2014 at 12:40 PM 
Blogger Fresh Ink said...

Thanks for your comment. I just received a partial FOIL response from the city that shows 32 Park Place was cited for violations under the previous owner in 1999. Nothing since then. I will be writing more about this in a couple of weeks. I invite people with suggestions for this story to comment or email me. -- Barbara Lombardo

June 12, 2014 at 5:17 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what is going on with the bright yellow house near beekman? For a while there was both a "For Sale" sign AND a "condemned" sign. Now I see neither.

What's just as bad is the number of homeowners who don't bother shoveling their sidewalks in the winter. It makes it impossible for me to walk to the grocery store. I was disappointed to see nobody cleared the snow in front of Preservation Hall, that fine old church sinking into disrepair.

June 12, 2014 at 6:43 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting problem but one that was much worse in years past. Leaves you to wonder though, what does our city code enforcement staff do with all their time? Have they written any citations in the last four years?

June 15, 2014 at 2:59 AM 
Blogger Josh Nemer said...

I was hoping that someone would fix up the vacant home on high rock avenue .. It's very disappointing that these people purchased it .. I am sure with there current track record it will be neglected like the other properties they own.. Glad you posted this info . We need to get the city to put pressure on the owners to fix these properties up

June 17, 2014 at 7:29 PM 
Blogger concerned neighbor said...

I live near another vacant eye sore in Saratoga. It is on the corner of Jefferson Terrace and East Broadway, near racino. Not only is the house in shambles, there is junk and an old van in the yard for over a year. Can't believe this is allowed for such a long time.

June 19, 2014 at 8:04 AM 
Anonymous Carbour said...

We own the property at 64 Phila, directly across from the two derelict properties owned by Helen Simpson and her husband. We have been waiting for 20 years for someone to renovate those houses. The Simpsons started to work on them many years ago, but some of their ideas were rejected by the neighbors and the City so nothing was done. Tom McTygue, Kevin Vietch among other city officials have tried to get something started, but failed.
I can not imagine why someone would buy an Investment property simply to let it sit and rot.

June 20, 2014 at 6:23 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By now you must know taking your complaint to the SS preservation foundation is a waste of time . The problem IS the SS preservation foundation ,-not the city .They have manipulated the DRC system for their own benefit and now no one wants to invest in the historical areas of the city where DRC has power- because its just to unpredictable and political.

June 23, 2014 at 4:21 PM 
Anonymous James said...

I have made repeated calls to the city's code enforcement officer concerning the property at Jefferson Street and East Broadway that "Concerned Neighbor" mentioned above. Only one call has been returned and, with the exception of the grass being cut one time, nothing else appears to have been done. An unregistered vehicle remains on the property, which is strewn with liquor bottles and other junk. I hope that Concerned Neighbor and others will continue to appeal to the city and I will do the same.

June 24, 2014 at 12:12 PM 

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