Landlord's death complicates cleanup No easy solution for this and other properties
SHAMOKIN - Two buildings destroyed by separate fires almost 18 months ago and one home on the brink of total collapse have yet to be torn down, despite efforts by city officials to have the owners raze them.
Code officer Rick Bozza said the situation is complicated because one owner has since died, one said he does not have money to raze his building, and another lives in New York and has not responded to certified letters.
One of the buildings destroyed by fire is 717-719 N. Shamokin St., owned by Larry Burda, who died earlier this year. Police charged James L. Neidlinger Jr., Shamokin, with starting that and other fires in the city, and he was sentenced to time in state prison after pleading no contest in connection with the arsons.
Burda left behind not only the partially demolished building, but at least 10 others in the Shamokin area, many of which have been, or are, in violation of city code.
One is 701-703 N. Shamokin St., a three-story brick building in the same block as 717-719. Before his death, Burda was found guilty of 36 code and nuisance ordinance violations involving the property.
Bozza said he is unsure who owns the buildings now because Burda did not have a will, and there are conflicting statements from a relative of Burda's, who lives out of state, and a holding company.
Two other buildings destroyed in the Neidlinger arson cases were the former Hardshell Cafe, 422 N. Shamokin St., owned by Stephen Bednar, of Shamokin, and an adjoining building owned by his son, Jarrod.
In February, Bozza gave them two weeks to start demolition or face citations. Jarrod Bednar had his building torn down and is in the process of backfilling the ground, but the Hardshell is still standing.
Stephen Bednar was cited three times in June because of the condition of the property. A summary trial before Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III scheduled this past Monday was continued when Bednar was granted time to create a plan to raze the building.
"He said he doesn't have the funds to tear it down to the ground," Bozza said. "We need this thing down ASAP."
Regarded as one of the most dangerous properties in Shamokin is 625-627 E. Commerce St., which has already partially collapsed. Jhoel Leonardo, of 13201 95th St., South Richmond Hill, Queens, N.Y., has been cited more than a dozen times.
Cpl. Bryan Primerano issued a summary warrant for Leonardo Oct. 31 after he was cited a fifth time for creating a public nuisance due to the condition of the property. If no action is taken, officials will take their case to Gembic to upgrade the summary offenses to a misdemeanor charge of creating a public nuisance.
"We never heard from this guy," Bozza said. "There are more citations pending. We need to get him in the court system."
More in violation
The properties are just a few of the 51 in Shamokin that Bozza said are in violation of at least one city or state code. To combat the blight, several cases that involve more than three code tickets have been passed to Primerano, who charges such owners with misdemeanors.
More recent properties to catch Bozza's eyes are 314 and 316-318 E. Independence St., site of the former David Distributing Company and Sports Center.
Photos recently taken by Bozza show holes in sections of the roof and numerous unsecured buckets and tarps covering the roof.
A view inside from the store fronts show moldy merchandise, a sagging ceiling with dirt and debris throughout the building.
Lee Doncheski, of Elysburg, was given paperwork notifying him that he is in violation of a city ordinance and has 30 days to either demolish or bring the buildings up to code.
"There is debris, including glass, on the awning," Bozza said. "If this falls on the sidewalk, it could hurt someone."
One way officials could rid the city of a hazardous property is to raze it themselves; however, Bozza said the city doesn't have the funds and is unlikely to recover the costs from a lien placed on the property.
Typically, municipalities purchase dilapidated properties for a nominal price at a Northumberland County repository sale, then use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money to tear them down.
"The city can't use CDBG money to tear down the buildings unless they own them," Bozza said. "The city doesn't have the funds to tear down these buildings."
Shamokin was accepted in June into the Act 47 program after the state agreed it met the standards for a financially distressed community. Its application for a $1,163,500 interest-free loan is still pending. Shamokin is predicted to run out of money by mid-August, and more than $811,000 in bills from 2013 is outstanding.