The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

December 16, 2012

City battles blight

JOHNSTOWN — What was once The Rib Rack restaurant is now an eyesore and a hazard.

The building, located at 405 Strayer St. in Johnstown’s West End, is in a state of decay, with crumbling bricks, broken rain spout, boarded windows and weeds.

Soon, though, the building will be razed.

Its demolition is part of an ongoing effort by City Council and the Community and Economic Development Department to remove blight from the town.  

Since the fall of last year, 66 structures have been razed. The Rib Rack is next on the list. Work has started in the past few days.

Getting rid of the buildings – at a faster pace than seen locally in recent history – has helped improve the safety and attractiveness of neighborhoods, according to City Manager Kristen Denne.

“That’s a significant number of blighted properties that have been removed. ... We see a lot less crime activity, a reduction of rodents, undesirables, structures like that being exposed to fire, the possibility of people squatting in them,” said Denne. “The aesthetic value has a mental impact on the people that live on that street and in that area.”

Almost $500,000 in Housing and Urban Development funds has been used to demolish the buildings.

“We’ve made the move to put a very heavy emphasis in the last couple years on redesigning code enforcement and removing blight from the Johnstown community,” Denne said.

Property owners must sign a lien before the razing.

The city does not take ownership of what become empty lots.

“The homeowner still is required to maintain the land, cut the grass, whatever,” said Renee Daly, community and economic development director.

Johnstown has been assisted by Pennsylvania’s Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act 90 of 2010. The law improved municipalities’ ability to take legal action against the owners of dilapidated properties. “We can hold the property owners accountable if they have a blighted structure in the city, but they own a beautiful home in, say,  Ligonier,” Daly said. “We can actually lien that property in Ligonier that they might own, live in, whatever, if they’re an absentee landlord of a property here they’ve allowed to go to blight.”

With the city’s new emphasis on getting rid of the structures, the number of code enforcement officials has grown from one to three in recent years. A fourth residential inspector might be added in 2013.

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Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
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