Germantown Conservancy to take on blight

Photo: Germantown Town Hall

Aug. 13

By PlanPhilly Staff

According to Germantown Conservancy co-chairman Peter J. Wirs, the newly formed non-profit, which is representing a coalition of local community groups, will file the first petition under Act 135, the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act, signed into law this past November 26, 2008 by Governor Ed Rendell.

The petition, to be filed early next week in the Court of Common Pleas seeks control over 331 buildings or vacant lots representing 310 projects in the 12th, 13th and 59th Wards (Lower and Upper Germantown), 22nd Ward (Mt. Airy) and the 9th Ward (Chestnut Hill) which include such historical landmarks as the Germantown Town Hall, Loudoun Mansion, the now-destroyed Garrett-Dunn House, the Tulpehocken Train Station and the Nugent-Presser buildings.

Act 135 targets abandoned and blighted properties in which the current building owner has failed to abate building code violations which are dangerous to the health, safety and welfare of the immediate community. Buildings eligible for conservation under Act 135 must not be legally occupied for the past 12 months and cannot be actively marketed for sale. Act 135 provides three specific constitutional safeguards by which the building owner can keep the property by correcting the code violations or satisfying the conservator’s liens, otherwise the court-appointed conservator can sell the property.

Act 135 is precedent-setting in that it is designed to move long-vacant properties out of the Executive Branch and out of the private sector, and into the Judicial Branch for extraordinarily strict oversight and enforcement of exemplary fiduciary standards far higher than in the Executive Branch or in the private sector.

The court filing will include these highlights:

* represents 5,170,523 in total square footage.

* 172 properties or 51.96% of all projects are in arrears for $2,057,685 in city real estate taxes.

* 70.32% of projects, for a total 218, are in 12th Ward and 21 or 6.77% are in the 13th Ward (Lower Germantown), 22.26% of projects, for a total of 69, are in 59th Ward (Upper Germantown), 6.45% or 20 projects in 22nd Ward (Mt. Airy). Only two projects are in the 9th Ward (Chestnut Hill).

* 10.18% of projects, or 36 properties are owned by the City, Philadelphia Housing or Redevelopment Authority, or SEPTA.

* 13.90% of projects, or 66 properties are owned by for-profit multi-property corporate, partnership or individual owners.

* 4.23% of projects, or 14 properties are owned by one non-profit multi-property owner.

*  17 properties or 5.74% or projects are owned by religious institutions.

* 16.31% or 156 parcels owned by known absentee owners. Of Absentee owners, 14.19% of all projects, or 42 parcels are owned by building owners who do not reside within the City, one-third are out-of-state, two-thirds reside within Pennsylvania.

* Historical landmarks sought to be saved under current petition, 43, including one Town Hall, Tulpehocken train station, three Gothic churches and multiple Victorian-era mansions.

* Number of Buildings already sealed, declared structurally unsound, or in “below average” condition by City 61.

* Number of vacant lots, 69.

* Total estimated cost for building owners to bring their properties up to code. $452,228,705

* Total estimated cost for conservator to rehabilitate properties for re-sale to general public. $505,770,907

* Total number of construction jobs generated by appointment of conservator. 3,479.

* Total City tax revenue generated by new construction jobs. $8,885,390.


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