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Boswell taking legal action to clean up blight

November 13, 2018

Boswell Borough officials are looking for solutions for the town’s blight problem, starting with taking control of the empty lot on Morris Avenue where a collapsed building once stood.

Solicitor David Leake said he will be filing a lawsuit today for the borough council to take control of the properties. The lawsuit states that the borough is looking for $50,000 in damages from Jolee Properties, the current owner. The borough has spent $48,572 for cleaning and demolition of the former hardware store and bank building.

Leake said at a council meeting Monday that the municipality is asking for the costs of cleanup, demolition and legal fees.

“Basically anything the borough spent on this, that’s what we’re asking for,” he said.

The brick building, located near Main Street, fell down in May after months of deterioration. No one was injured. Crews from Berkey Excavating demolished the dilapidated buildings.

At a court hearing in May, Somerset County Judge Dan Rullo gave the borough permission to clean up the property, which is owned by Jolee Properties, of Frederick, Maryland. The building’s previous owner, Gregory Hensley, of Maryland, died in 2017, according to borough officials.

Leake said he believes the Maryland corporation has been dissolved.

“I don’t foresee this (lawsuit) being answered,” Leake said.

The property was part of the county’s upset tax sale in September, with the opening bid listed at $5,328.22. There were no bidders for the property at the sale.

The borough has identified at least nine more buildings that need to be demolished because of health and safety concerns, but it is work the borough cannot afford. Council members originally estimated tearing down one building would cost roughly $12,000.

Council members said there is severe deterioration to the nine buildings.

“The property by (council President) Mary Ann DeLuca has a hole in the roof that if you had a good crane you could drop a camper right down through it,” council member Kathryn Critchfield said.

Steve Spochart, Somerset County Redevelopment Authority executive director, and Somerset County Commissioner Pat Terlingo attended the meeting to share possible sources of funding for the work. Both officials said the borough is not alone when dealing with blight and back taxes from outside companies not willing to take care of their properties.

The county has a demolition fund for blighted properties that county officials started last year. Spochart said there is currently up to $70,000 in the fund, enough possibly to do one demolition.

“We’re trying to get creative with this money,” he said.

Leake said the lawsuit with Jolee Properties is going to be a model of how the borough plans to deal with blighted properties, especially if they have another incident like the one along Morris Avenue. Leake said that everyone should know borough officials are not afraid of using litigation to recoup financial losses caused by unsafe properties.

“A building falls down, yeah we’re going to make sure the community’s safe and pay for it, but we are coming after you,” he said.

See a copy of the borough’s lawsuit at www.dailyamerican.com.

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