By Mary Spicer
They’ve been making a list of blighted residential properties within the city’s boundaries and checking it twice.
Charged in early September with the task of preparing a list of 10 to 15 of the city’s “most offensive” properties, officials including Meadville Fire Chief Larndo (Tunie) Hedrick, the city’s chief code enforcement officer; Zoning Officer Gary Johnson; Assistant City Manager Andy Walker; both of the city’s property maintenance inspectors; and the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Meadville contributed to the requested “Blight Report.” Complete with photographic evidence supporting each structure’s inclusion on the list, the presentation is scheduled for Meadville City Council’s monthly meeting tonight, Walker said Tuesday. The session, which is also televised live by Armstrong, begins at 6 p.m. in the Meadville City Building, 894 Diamond Park. As with all monthly study sessions and meetings, the session is open to the public.
Council is expected to return to a long-standing discussion of the deployment of blight-fighting weapons in the city’s arsenal against high-visibility eyesores. As Councilmember John Battaglia sees it, getting “nasty” may be the only option.
“Other cities that are successful at this have really draconian rules,” Battaglia told his fellow council members during their September study session. “The only way you’re ever going to get Meadville cleaned up is that you’re really going to have to get nasty.”
Exactly how nasty council is willing to get is expected be the topic of post-presentation discussion.
Gary Alizzeo, the city’s attorney, has already outlined the city’s basic options. In addition to beefed-up enforcement under the city’s existing property maintenance code, Alizzeo explained in September, the city has legal options including eminent domain powers allowed under Pennsylvania’s constitution; the state’s blighted and abandoned property conservatorship law of 2008, which allows a court-appointed third party to take control of blighted property when the owner refuses to act; Pennsylvania’s Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act of 2011, which allows municipalities to collect costs related to code violations by pursuing property owners personally instead of just filing liens against properties; and the state’s Criminal Code, which includes the crime of Municipal Housing Code Avoidance, which may carry misdemeanor-level charges.
However, Alizzeo also stressed that there’s no silver bullet hidden among the options. “They all have pros and cons,” he said.
While the city has a redevelopment authority experienced in both housing rehabilitation and the elimination of slum and blight, Executive Director Jill Withey maintains that from her organization’s perspective, the best approach to fighting blight is “prevention first.”
“We deal with the absolutely worst,” Withey told council during its initial discussion. Council’s question, she suggested, should be, “What do we do to keep the structure from getting into this shape in the first place?”
If council wants city employees to seriously tackle the issue of blight, five questions need to be answered, according to Alizzeo. Council needs to decide: What it wants to accomplish; where its priorities lie; what resources are available; what additional resources are needed; and how much it will cost.
Tonight, the discussion is expected to continue.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.