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Thursday, July 11, 2013

REPOST: River Cities Use Taxpayer Money to Take Care of Blight; Could Fort Thomas Be Next?


By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Reporter

Caketown. Tree City USA. The City of Beautiful Homes. Fort Thomas, Kentucky is known by a multitude of platitudes by residents and onlookers alike. At first glance, you’d think that every home was straight out of Norman Rockwell’s sketchbook.

But a closer look shows that even “The City of Beautiful Homes” has some blight. Some may say those houses spread across Fort Thomas which have become vacant and dilapidated need to be demolished. The housing bubble of 2008 and subsequent economic downturn is almost certainly the culprit.

Covington, Kentucky had a far greater problem with vacancies and blight that Fort Thomas, but the city recently voted to demolish about 50 privately and city-owned properties mostly on the east side. But Fort Thomas City Administrative Officer Don Martin said that will not happen anytime soon unlike.

Martin said portions of those blighted properties were part of Urban Renewal Zones as outlined by Kentucky Revised Statute 99.
Covington contracted JP Excavating out of Glencoe, Kentucky to do the work. It cost the city about $5,700 per property as opposed to $10,000 on its own using grants and money from the city’s general fund. Covington will instead use the tax money in other way such as foreclosing the properties and making the sites more profitable.

“Fort Thomas does not have an area in the city that would currently meet the criteria for being declared an Urban Renewal Zone,” Martin said. “These state statutes cannot be used to address individual properties.”

However, Martin did say Fort Thomas could order a property to be demolished if it was in so bad of shape that it was a danger to nearby residents. But the owner could appeal that decision through the courts through a process that could take several years. Martin said he’s not aware of this happening in Fort Thomas recently.

If the courts decide the home needs to be demolished, Fort Thomas would not rebuild it. The owner still owns the land and could keep it vacant, rebuild a home or sell it for someone else to build on it. One could then assume the new home would be worth more and bring more property tax money to Fort Thomas. The current property tax value is 36 cents per $100 of a home.

“It is generally more expensive for a city to demolish any structure than a private owner because the city must obtain a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency, must conduct a Phase I Environmental Impact Study on the structure, and must remove any hazardous material such as asbestos before the home could be demolished,” Martin said. “A private property owner is not required to follow these steps.”

Two homes in question are located at 37 Earnscliff and 1627 North Fort Thomas Avenue. Martin said he does not know if they are vacant or not. Neighbors have reported multiple break-ins various homes like these two. Criminal activity is a big reason Covington is tearing down those homes.

“The two homes are currently maintained at or above the minimum standards required by the City’s Property Maintenace Code,” Martin said. “The current property owners may not be maintaining them at the same level as neighboring homes, but their current conditions are not in violation of city ordinance.”
Residents near those homes have different concerns regarding the properties. Kyle Hardin sees the property on Earnscliff from his back yard.

“I don’t think the city should have to tear them down,” Hardin said. “That does not concern me. Some people don’t like being near those houses because it bring their property value down.”

Another neighbor expressed the opposite view. Lisa Massa lives across from the property on North Fort Thomas Avenue. Massa said that home has been vacant for three years.
“Activities there as an open property have been going on for years,” Massa said. “The situation needs to be taken care of and no one seems to care. It needs to be bulldozed.”

Martin said Fort Thomas goes by the International Property Maintenance Code to address property violations. The building inspector goes out to look at properties from where the public can walk when a complaint about a blighted property comes in.

“If violations are observed, the building inspector will send a notice of violation and remedial order to the owner of record,” Martin said. “This notice gives sufficient time for the owner of record to correct the observed violations, most owners resolve the violations after receiving this letter. If corrections are not made, the owner is sent a second notice via certified mail. Again, at this step more violations are corrected. If corrections are not made after the certified letter, a third notice is mailed via certified mail. If corrections are not made after the third notice, the owner of record is cited to court.”

The International Property Maintenance Code is about 45 pages long and is part of the nearly 700-page International Residential Code designed by the International Code Counsel. The International Property Maintenance Code deals with the day-to-day exterior maintenance of residential properties. Unsafe conditions include overhanging awnings and porches and decks that are not structurally sound. For instance, a leaning porch would not be safe.

Martin noted there are just four properties currently holding up in court. The locations are 1011/1013 South Fort Thomas Avenue, 37 Fairfield Place, 52 Crowell and 13 Woodland because a sailboat is in the yard.

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