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Bethlehem ready to crack down on blighted properties

By Jaccii Farris, Reporter, JFarris@wfmz.com
Published On: Jul 22 2013 07:01:54 AM CDT

City cracking down on properties

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

The city of Bethlehem could soon be telling blighted property owners to register or write a big fat check.

A proposed city ordinance seeks to force owners of abandoned properties to take responsibility and keep neighborhood property values intact.

This stretch of Ari pine Avenue in Bethlehem is a nice neighborhood, where weekends are spent mowing lawns, planting flowers and playing with the kids.

But there is one thing about this pristine neighborhood that residents don't like.

"Having this on the street is just really, I think everyone here is beyond frustrated," said Mary Kay Baker.

Baker says she's frustrated because no one in the neighborhood knows who owns one abandoned and blighted home, and that makes neighbors nervous.

"You don't know what is going on, could a homeless person or somebody go inside the house. Could there be drugs going on inside the house and for that matter could there be a murder inside the house," said Bob James.

But residents are more fearful the eyesore will be the death of their property values.

City officials say most of the homes are foreclosures, owned by out of town banks.

"In the city we have about 75 to 100 abandoned properties that we would like to be able to take care of," said Eric Evans, Bethlehem City Council.

 "I receive constant calls from neighbors about properties like the one we are standing in front of here. Unfortunately our hands are tied in a lot of cases because we just can't track down who owns that particular property," said Michael Palos, Bethlehem code enforcement.

A proposed ordinance would change that by requiring owners of abandoned and foreclosed homes to register, inspect their property regularly and maintain it or face financial consequences.

 "The first citation would be $1,000, the second would be $1,000, then it jumps to $3,000, $5,000 and $10,000 each time they don't comply," Palos said.

The ordinance is expected to get final approval in August.

The folks on Aripine Avenue say the ordinance will help other neighborhoods in the same situation -- and that's just one of the reasons they stand behind it.