Property owner in Germantown spite-blight case skips court hearing

Mercurial Germantown property owner Anthony Byrne is facing more than $36,000 in fines after failing to appear at the latest hearing in a years-long blight case regarding his house at 5357 Knox St.

Byrne, who lives in Wyndmoor and published the Irish Edition monthly newspaper, is 80 and has described a host of health problems, but it was unclear Thursday why he skipped the hearing before Municipal Court Judge Bradley K. Moss.

A message left for Byrne was not immediately returned, but in past interviews, he has said the city and his neighbors are hounding him to the end of his life over repairs he has said are overpriced, unnecessary or both. He has said he will not pay the more than $6,000 in property taxes due on the house, which he has owned since 1982.

But the neighbors were there

His neighbors, a group of whom attend every hearing and did so Thursday, say the house is a blemish on an otherwise stable neighborhood in Germantown’s Penn-Knox section.

Through the court case, brought by the Philadelphia Historical Commission in 2010, some repairs have been made to the house under specific orders and threats of fines from Moss. A large porch was rebuilt, windows have been replaced, and some other repairs made, but neighbors are frustrated.

At a hearing last month, Byrne parted ways with his latest lawyer, who petitioned for months to get off the case when their business relationship soured.

Also, Byrne gave the judge a contractor’s estimate totaling $36,894 for needed work on the house’s dormers, to bring them into compliance with historic preservation standards.

The judge issued the order to repair the dormers in April.

Fine levied, new date set

When Byrne didn’t show up in court Thursday, the judge set a conditional fine in that amount, and scheduled the next hearing in the case — the 16th — for Dec. 6. He also reaffirmed that once the dormers are fixed or that issue settled, the case would end.

Neighbor Georgette Bartell asked exactly what conditions Byrne would have to meet to avoid paying the fine.

The judge didn’t say exactly, but said the point is to see the house fixed and the case resolved.

“Conditional fines are supposed to be motivating fines,” the judge said. “The primary goal is to get the work done, not to collect fines.”

The next hearing will be at 9 a.m. Dec. 6 in City Hall Courtroom 446.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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