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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.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Your turn to speak up on vacant eyesores in Saratoga

I’m not the only one fed up with vacant, neglected residential property in their neighborhood. More than a dozen of you responded to my piece about vacant homes and the apparent lack of city pressure on owners. I’ll share some of your stories and comments today. But first, an update on communication with Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen, a member of the City Council.

The owner of this disaster at 32 Park Place
told me this is their next project. Sorry,
Phila Street residents.
I get the sense that regardless of good intentions, the doubling of the staff to two code enforcers and the addition of clerical support have barely made a dent in their feeling of being overwhelmed, documentation is not a strong suit, and the year-old law regarding vacant properties is not getting it done.

Mathiesen emailed to tell me that the law was sparked not by the regrettable deterioration of 66 Franklin St., but “to provide a dis-incentive for people to hang on to vacant properties for many years while they gradually deteriorate and continue to adversely affect surrounding homes and neighborhoods.”

However, Mathiesen noted, “I agree that more needs to be done as far as follow-up for the Vacant Properties Ordinance. The operations of our office have been compromised while in our temporary space. We will be doing much more on this when we are back in our City Hall offices. I will have more information on your other concerns once I have spoken to our staff. I will get back to you soon.”

We can be reasonably patient without letting the city off the hook. I’ve asked for documents showing to when and to whom letters about vacant property were sent, whether they were received, and what has happened since. While we’re waiting, here are excerpts from some of your emails. (I didn’t ask whether I could use writers' names, so I won’t. But I do thank everyone for their encouraging comments. And I will use photos if you can send them as jpegs, please.)

Wild animal kingdom: We have, more than once, reported rodents, feral cats, possum and other wildlife. The large addition in the upper rear half of 32 Park Place, makes it more than a residential building, almost like a bed and breakfast. It's just dry timber. … Thanks for the helpful information and bringing/keeping this issue in the public eye.

Wish it were mine: I’ve been following Helen Simpson's vacant properties for years. Tried to buy the white house on Phila, but she had just purchased it before I could follow up. Count me in on anything I can do to help in the future.

Dangerous and disgusting: As a Phila Street resident, I am thoroughly fed up with the lack of any upkeep effort whatsoever on the part of the owners. Indeed I worry that 63 Phila will collapse onto my house! I am in the process of writing up a petition in order to more firmly bring this issue to the attention of our elected officials. Pigeon crap is not only ugly but can pose a very real health risk (it is friable and can, when dry, take to the air), especially to the very young and very old.

Owner MIA: Oh how I related to your article regarding vacant homes. The house across the street from me (67 Monroe Street) has been vacant for eight years. My understanding is that the owner is "missing" and she abandoned the home. Code Enforcer Dan Cogan has been supportive and did have the two-foot lawn mown this past week. Several people want to buy the house, but without contact information that task is impossible.

Another mystery owner: We would like to know the status or any pertinent information regarding the vacant house at 5 Gick Road. It is a terrible eyesore on the neighborhood. Small animals abound around the property. Heaven knows what is in the house! I believe the property is in the hands of a lawyer but nothing seems to be happening.

Birds, squirrels, who knows what: I have another address for you. The main house at 200 Caroline St. has been vacant a long time. Occasionally the owner cuts the grass but there is absolutely no maintenance to this very attractive house. There are large holes in the columns and eaves with squirrels and birds going in and out. The east side of the house is deteriorating badly on the exterior. Who knows what’s going on inside? Behind the house is a very nice cottage that has been vacant for years and is also overgrown. And at the far south end of the property is a barn/garage, the roof of which fell in about five years ago and the city made the owner fix it. But that building is a leaner anyway. The property has been on the Preservation Foundation’s Ten-to-Save list for several years.

Heartbreaking decay: The Brackett cottage on Excelsior and the former Ash Grove Inn out Church Street -- passing each makes me weep. 

Junk to boot: I live near another vacant eye sore in Saratoga. It is on the corner of Jefferson Terrace and East Broadway, near the 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.

Those of you who have dealt with the code enforcers typically describe them as polite, responsive and concerned. That's been my experience, too. So what's actually being done to cite and follow-up on violators of the vacant property law (which I describe in my previous post)? Stay tuned.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fact of the matter is that the city (public safety)has to step forward and stand up to the SS preservation extremists. There are some homes that can be saved -and some that can not be saved ,whether they like it or not.

June 27, 2014 at 8:23 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If our code enforcement officers are overwhelmed let's get them some more help. Do they have any success stories to share?

June 28, 2014 at 6:28 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As much as you want to impose your view of responsible property maintenance on others, the only thing that is enforceable by city Code Enforcement is the NYS Property Maintenance Code. This code contains specific action that an owner must take or the city can perform the actions and bill the taxpayer; nothing more.

The council has rarely, if ever, billed a taxpayer for fines or funds due for property maintenance. Code enforcement is not willing to spend city money with no hope of recouping city funds, rightly so. Look at the golf course on Weible Ave. tens of thousands of dollars in fines and maintenance performed and no money collected.

June 28, 2014 at 9:08 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:28 am
They are not overwhelmed. They are lazy. It is also not politically expedient for the commissioner to fully enforce the code. Remember membership has it's privilege.

June 28, 2014 at 5:23 PM 
Anonymous M. kELLY said...

I have made several calls to city hall about 2 Casino Dr. It has been vacant for almost three years. There is a great deal of interest in purchasing it, but the lawyers and the bank could care less as it is not in their neighborhood.
The resident have been very patient about this property, but the grass has not been cut in at least two months. It is nothing more than a eyesore. All we get are excuses and lies from city hall.

June 30, 2014 at 9:27 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a house slowly rotting on the corner of Washington Street and Walworth. Last summer, the front hedges covered the sidewalk. Someone trimmed them back so now we can at least use the sidewalk, but I see they're quickly growing back. Now I see a front window has been broken. One day I was walking on Washington with my son, and I noticed two gentlemen (who I'm certain aren't connected with the property) removing some metalwork from the front porch. Is the house occupied? Will it slowly rot and ruin the block?

July 10, 2014 at 3:41 PM 

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