Workshop Details County-wide Fight Against Blight
WILKES-BARRE — About a dozen officials of Luzerne County municipalities took part in a workshop Monday to learn how they can fight blight in their communities.
“This has been about two years in the making,” said Harry Haas, a county councilman and chairman of the county blighted property review committee, which organized the workshop.
The committee, formed in 2016, works with the county’s boroughs and townships to reduce blight. The county redevelopment authority provides administrative and legal assistance to the committee.
On Monday, committee members explained the process by which a property can be added to a county-wide database of blighted properties.
That process starts with municipal officials, who take the crucial first step of investigating reported blighted properties, Haas said. The blighted property database gives those officials “another tool in the belt,” he said.
Only vacant properties can be added to the database, Haas said.
Committee member George Prehatin coordinated a slide show that outlined the long process by which action can be taken against owners of vacant, blighted properties who refuse to bring those properties into compliance.
According to the slide show, the process starts with local officials submitting a property referral form to the committee.
If the committee decides the property meets the criteria for blight, it will issue a warning to the property owner. If the owner does not comply, a series of hearings will be scheduled. If the alleged violations are still not addressed by the end of the hearings, the property can be added to the blighted property database.
The case will then proceed to the county redevelopment authority for potential action. The authority is authorized to seize properties through eminent domain, though that would only happen in egregious cases, committee members said.
“Are we going to take grandma’s house?” Prehatin said. “No. This is about properties that are abandoned.”
Haas said the committee hopes to address the “most heinous” examples of blighted properties in the county’s boroughs and townships.
The county’s four cities — Wilkes-Barre, Nanticoke, Pittston and Hazleton — are not eligible, since they have their own redevelopment authorities. However, officials of Nanticoke and Wilkes-Barre attended the workshop, saying they want to be informed about the process in case a change in regulations permits them to participate.
The committee plans to hold another workshop at its next meeting on Nov. 19.
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