Homeowners Sue West Pittston Over Flood Buyouts
WEST PITTSTON — Homeowners whose properties were devastated by flooding have filed a lawsuit alleging borough officials kept a home buyout program under wraps in an effort to protect their tax base.
Richard and Kimberly Hazzouri, of 1200 Susquehanna Ave., are seeking to have West Pittston Borough buy their properties because officials allegedly failed to adequately inform residents about the program.
The lawsuit, filed by the Kingston-based law firm Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn, alleges West Pittston officials selectively notified some residents about a home buyout through the Luzerne County Disaster Recovery Buyout Program while “willfully providing other residents with false and/or inaccurate information.”
“West Pittston Borough’s failure to adhere to and otherwise comply with the citizen participation requirements of the Luzerne County Disaster Recovery Buyout Program operations plan has deprived the plaintiffs of the opportunity to obtain a ‘buyout’ of their property, thereby denying them procedural due process,” attorney Joseph A. Quinn Jr. wrote in the complaint.
The lawsuit said the Hazzouris own property at 1200 Susquehanna Ave. and 7 Philadelphia Ave. — properties that sustained about $396,000 in damage during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
The properties are located within the 100-year flood plain, and qualified for relief under the buyout plan, according to the complaint.
Luzerne County created the project in the aftermath of the storms to buy and demolish about 175 properties throughout the county using $14.2 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant funding, the complaint said.
But the Hazzouris had no knowledge of the program until hearing about it from their friends in August 2017, according to the suit.
While federal regulations required residents be notified via “a number of methods” such as mailings, phone calls and media listings, the evidence shows the Luzerne County Office of Community Development simply ran a classified ad in The Citizens’ Voice on a single day in 2012, the complaint said.
“A single public notice by (the office) set forth in the classified section of The Citizens’ voice clearly does not comply with, or satisfy, the notification requirements expressly set forth in the plan,” Quinn wrote.
The complaint said when the Hazzouris contacted the office in August 2017, they were informed the project was six years old and in its final stages.
They were able to apply for the program, but were informed their properties would go on a waiting list because of their value and the fact the Hazzouris applied so late, the complaint said.
A Community Development official told them municipalities appeared to be keeping the project “hush-hush because of the effect buyouts would have on their communities,” according to the complaint.
Kimberly Hazzouri subsequently began researching other relief programs and learned they would qualify for a mitigation grant through the county’s Flood Protection Authority. But when they applied the borough refused to sign off on it, saying they were “no longer going to pursue acquisitions, demolitions or buyouts,” the complaint said.
The suit also alleges unidentified borough officials commented the buyouts couldn’t continue “because of the effect it was having, and would continue to have, upon the Borough’s tax base and the community in general.”
The lawsuit alleges the borough denied the Hazzouris their due process rights and seeks the “fair market value” of their properties in addition to punitive damages and legal costs.
Mayor Tom Blaskiewicz did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.
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