Township officials: Planners could start the eminent domain process: Montclair NJ Times, 10/11/06

By Dan Prochilo

A nearly 110-year-old house at the corner of Orange Road and Irving Street [in Montclair] could be on its way to becoming municipal property after township officials’ attempts to get the homeowner to repair it failed.

At its meeting this coming Monday, the Planning Board will consider advising the Township Council to declare the vacant house at 249 Orange Road an area in need of redevelopment.

Mayor Ed Remsen said many times that designation simply pressures the owner into either rehabilitating the property or selling it to someone who will.

“Sometimes this is the only thing folks understand,” said the mayor. “It begins a process that very often” gets the owner to take action, he said.

But if it provokes no response, the mayor said the council can then order a property valuation, seize the land using eminent domain and pay the owner fair market value.

The Township Council unanimously approved a resolution on July 25 asking the Planning Department to look into the rundown eight-bedroom residence, built in 1897.

The resultant report indicates the home “is not as badly deteriorated as some of the properties which have been considered under the New Jersey Local Redevelopment and Housing Law. The repairs are certainly achievable and the architectural style is mostly intact.”

But if it stays vacant, it’ll continue falling apart, the report read.

Investigators couldn’t get access to the inside of the house, but earlier this year, code enforcement officers issued several citations to homeowner Jeffrey L. Washington, who lives in the Bronx, N.Y.

The officers claimed Washington was doing nothing to address the deterioration of the structure’s staircases, fa├žade, trim and garage, and he failed to pick up the trash strewn around the property, Planning Director Karen Kadus said.

But Washington, who bought the home last year, was “unresponsive” to the township’s concerns, the report read, so he was summoned to municipal court on June 15.

According to the report, he didn’t show up for his court date and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

An effort by The Times to contact Washington through Washington Mutual, the bank that holds the second mortgage on his house, was unsuccessful.

Problems with the home surfaced before Washington bought it, though. Residents have been complaining about garbage stinking up the backyard, rodents and overgrown grass since 2004, the report read.

In late May, the township convinced Washington Mutual to send a work crew to the site to cut the grass.

But the landscapers the bank hired “(were) not equipped to deal with the massiveness of the grass,” the report read, so Parks Department workers had to cut it.

“(Washington) is just not paying attention to the property,” Kadus said. Although he is paying his taxes, investigators found.

Kadus said the Planning Department will try notifying the homeowner via the bank about next week’s hearing — scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chamber at the Municipal Complex — so perhaps he will attend and discuss his plans for the property.

Montclair NJ Times: http://www.montclairtimes.com