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Westover putting increased focus on vacant and condemned properties

As the city’s public works director, Jason Stinespring is pretty familiar with about every property in Westover.

Then there are some properties he’s very familiar with — 85 Monongahela Avenue; 15 Dunkard Avenue; abandoned trailers off Pennsylvania Avenue; and about 10 others.

Stinespring recently told members of Westover City Council that there are currently about 25 properties listed as vacant or condemned by the city.

“We have a vacant housing ordinance and so those have been registered with us as being vacant. The owners have registered it vacant and have agreed to keep up the property. Condemned properties are condemned for various reasons,” Stinespring said.  “One is vacant with permission and the other has been condemned as an unsafe structure or unsanitary structure or something along those lines.”

If a structure is condemned, the city initiates a lengthy process to have it demolished. How that process plays out is largely determined by whether the city can locate a responsive property owner.

“Jason is doing everything he can to find these property owners and we advertise to get their attention as well. There’s really nothing else we could do short of hiring a private detective to go hunt these people down,” City Attorney Tim Stranko explained.

But regardless of whether the owner can be located or chooses to participate, the end result is ultimately the same — the structure is torn down.

“We have one where the owner is currently tearing it down. We have one where the owner has agreed to have it torn down. Then there’s a third house that we’ll have to pay to tear down because the owners are in the wind,” Stinespring said. “Then there are two trailers we’ll be tearing down ourselves as well.”

If the city pays to prep a structure for demolition and tears it down, a lien is placed on the property.

“The process takes a while. There are a lot of legal steps, and that’s fine. It’s somebody’s property. You’ve got to give them due process,” Stinespring said.

Paying attention to these empty properties, be they vacant or condemned, has become a focus for the city.

Westover Police Chief Joe Adams explained his department works with Stinespring to keep an updated list.

“We want the guys to check three or four of them per shift, per guy,” Adams explained, noting the department will also do house checks if requested by residents who are out of town.

“That’s a big concern for the citizens of Westover, the abandoned houses and some of the transients coming through,” Councilor Steve Andryzcik told Adams. “I think it’s good the public knows you’ve implemented this program. That’s the kind of thing the citizens want to hear.”

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