Perkins gets money to deal with troublesome properties

PERKINS TWP. Long a source of trouble for Perkins Township officials, a Woodlawn Avenue home is slat
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Long a source of trouble for Perkins Township officials, a Woodlawn Avenue home is slated for demolition as part of a federally funded program aimed at restoring local property values.

"It's been an eyesore for years," said Jim Lamb, Perkins zoning inspector.

Like all eyesores, there's a story behind 908 Woodlawn Ave. The place sort of jumps at passersby, begging for one of two things -- a big pile of cash to pay for repairs, or a small pile of cash to pay for an ambitious wrecking crew.

County planners are opting for the latter, having been given the nod from the man who recently inherited the property from his uncle.

Erie Regional Planning Commission will demolish the house in the coming weeks, using $5,000 from a $1.3 million grant it received in April from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The grant is from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, part of the 2008 Housing and Economic Recovery Act. The money is being used to demolish or restore abandoned or foreclosed homes in an effort to stabilize property values and prevent blight.

Tim King, senior planner at Regional Planning, said the grant money will be used to demolish homes mostly in Sandusky, a city with an estimated 100 properties that are either condemned or being considered for such.

Even so, some of the money is being used in places like Perkins Township, which has 13 homes vacant or worthy of demolition.

The township demolished a home on Spencer Avenue and one on Strub Road several months ago, but used block grant money to pay for it.

So the Woodlawn Avenue home is not only the first in Perkins Township to be demolished using the stabilization program money, it's the first in the county.

Lamb said the township took the previous owner of the Woodlawn Avenue home to court a number of times since the 1980s, always to force him to clean up the property. The man sold firewood from his yard, stacking piles of it near the driveway so folks could stop by and purchase a few cords.

But it wasn't just firewood that rankled trustees' feathers -- it was chickens, too.

In 1982, an Erie County Common Pleas Court judge ordered the homeowner to get rid of his chickens after trustees complained. The judge also told the man he could own just four adult dogs.

The court order read, "The defendant shall not bring the chickens back on his property for any purpose."

Lamb was the township fire chief at the time. It was one of at least three times the township took the owner to court because of health or safety violations.

"He got rid of the chickens," Lamb said. "Or the neighbors caught 'em and had 'em for dinner. Either way, the chickens disappeared."

For a while, at least. The owner brought the chickens back to the home from time to time, as well as other odds and ends.

These days, some of those objects still litter the yard, which looks like a cyclone petered out above it and dropped everything it carried.

Over here was an almanac from the Eisenhower administration. Over there was a Johnny Cash CD. In the backyard was broken furniture, chicken wire, sheets of plywood, busted children's toys -- even a wooden yoke for a goat.

Charred bookcases still stand in the garage, which survived a fire from some years ago.

The former owner moved out recently after falling ill, leaving the property to his nephew.

In a letter dated Oct. 21, the nephew told Lamb the township and county could demolish the home, as long as the land remained in the nephew's possession.

Today, the house doesn't sit so much as it sags. The siding has been stripped, exposing tattered tar paper. Doors are busted, windows broken and things that shouldn't be exposed are exposed.

Amidst a nationwide mortgage crisis and an economic storm, public officials are finding they're left dealing with these troublesome properties.

"I'm surprised, to say the least, at the number of units we're coming across," King said. "It's a problem."

Lamb said the township couldn't afford to demo the property.

"With everyone's budgets so tight, it's hard to get this stuff done," he said. "But the county has those funds now."

Erie County has also applied for a second round of program funding, which could bring in at least $5 million to rehab or demolish local homes.

The current $1.3 million grant is funding the demolition of 40 properties without acquiring the land from homeowners. The Woodlawn Avenue house is one such property.

The program is also paying to demolish 18 to 20 homes, then placing the acreage into a land bank so neighboring residents can purchase it for pennies, expanding their properties.