Fire-damaged Mount Carmel buildings ready for demo
MOUNT CARMEL - A dispute over ownership of a house destroyed in a November 2012 fire that held up the demolition of two other properties affected by the blaze has been resolved.
The borough, which assumed ownership of 244 E. Second St. in December, will be accepting and voting on bids to tear it down at the next meeting Feb. 20.
The issue has been a problem for property owners and borough officials since the blaze 14 months ago, and the council president is glad to see an end in sight.
"I'm thrilled. I'm glad it's over. It shouldn't be that much of a hassle," council President Tony Matulewicz said Wednesday.
The bids are as follows: $6,200 from Ferdinand Diminick Contracting, Danville; $13,396 from Northeast Industrial Services, Shamokin; and $18,200 from Rutledge Excavating, Tyler Hill.
The company that awarded the contract must tear down the building by March 17.
The funding comes from money earmarked to address blighted properties in the borough that wasn't used in 2013, Matulewicz said.
Deed not transferred
The Nov. 8, 2012, fire destroyed four houses at 242, 244, 246 and 248 E. Second St., damaged two others at 238 and 250 E. Second St. and left 10 people homeless.
The fire started at 8:11 a.m. on the first floor of 244 E. Second St. and quickly spread to an adjoining dwelling at 242 E. Second St. and other properties. A flue pipe attached to a coal stove being too close to a wall was to blame.
The house at 242 E. Second St., which was owned by Martha Klaus at the time of the fire and is currently owned by Christine Kutza, was torn down in August by Ferdinand Diminick Contracting.
Diminick was also contracted to tear down 244, 246 and 248 E. Second St., but the ownership of 244 E. Second St. was in question, and the others couldn't be torn down without 244 falling with it.
The dispute of ownership was between Vernon Horsfield Jr., of 333 S. Chestnut St., and Mark Jackson and Thelma Amarose, who were living at the house at the time of the fire and renting to own from Horsfield, said borough code enforcement officer Robin Williams.
Although they had made their last payment of ownership, the deed hadn't been transferred before the fire, and the issue went to court, Williams said.
Horsfield was cited 12 times after the fire for unsafe structures. Magisterial District Judge Hugh Jones, of Mount Carmel, found him guilty of six of those offenses and was ordered to pay $550 in fines.
Jackson and Amarose racked 52 citations total for the same violation, which would have equaled $9,516 in fines and court costs had they been found guilty of their offenses.
Williams said the charges were dismissed in November by Jones, and the borough took over ownership of the property soon after.
"It was a monster of a thing to take care of," Williams said.
Brad Zimmerman, owner of 246 E. Second St., and John Nawarynski, of JNJ Investment Properties, Allentown, owner of 248 E. Second St., were not cited during the ownership dispute, he said.
"They made every effort and did everything they were asked. They were held up through no fault of their own," he said.
Wears them down
Matulewicz said battling absentee landlords and other similar situations like this wears council members and officials down.
Residents expect results for blighted properties, but the government can't just tear people's properties down, he said.
Originally, Matulewicz didn't support assuming ownership of 244 E. Second St., but changed his mind when he realized it was also holding up other residents' lives.
Council members will likely vote to put the property up for sale once the building is demolished, he said.
County commissioners approved during Tuesday's meeting the exoneration of the county portion of taxes, $720.89, for 244 E. Second St.