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Demolition begins on HotSpots house

November 10, 1999

By BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

Photo by KEVIN G. GILBERT / Staff Photographer


A vacant, crumbling house on Hagerstown's North Jonathan Street that has displeased neighbors for years is coming down.

A contractor hired by the owner of 424 N. Jonathan St. began knocking down the building this week.

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Activists have complained that the house, and others like it, encouraged crime by providing a haven for the area's drug dealers and users.

It was one of 37 vacant and substandard buildings blighting the HotSpot area, a two-square-mile section of the city that has been targeted by a state crime-fighting program since 1997.

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"That's just one off the list," said Vicki Hastings, Hagerstown's property maintenance inspector.

The house at 424 N. Jonathan St. had a hole-riddled, deteriorating front porch and broken windows and doors.

Carolyn W. Brooks, Hagerstown's HotSpot coordinator, said it was the worst of several decaying, empty buildings in the neighborhood.

"I was afraid if someone would have wandered up on that porch, they'd fall right straight through," Brooks said.

Brooks pointed to the demolition as tangible evidence that the HotSpot program is working.

"It would still be just the same, business as usual" if not for efforts to bring those buildings to the city's attention, Brooks said.

The property was an example of the frustrating task of cleaning up deteriorating properties in a neighborhood that has Washington County's most heavily concentrated drug problem, according to city officials.

"The process does work. It just takes a while," Hastings said.

The owner of the 424 N. Jonathan St. property, Jeffrey L. Jackson, was notified of multiple code violations in August 1998, code enforcement officer Marc David said.

In November 1998, after Jackson failed to correct the violations, he was fined $325. Violations included failing to replace a broken roof, failing to repair the front porch and failing to fix doors and windows.

Jackson, who did not appear for a court hearing on March 31, was found guilty in District Court of those violations. Judge R. Noel Spence gave him until July 31 to make the repairs.

"July 31 came and went, and nothing was done," David said.

Spence raised the fines to $375 on Aug. 5 and gave the city the right to make the repairs.

In the meantime, Jackson applied for a demolition permit.

At a follow-up hearing Wednesday, Spence gave Jackson two weeks to finish the demolition.

David said city officials will determine whether to pursue the fines or let them drop.

"Our ultimate goal is not to extract money from anybody. Our ultimate goal is to correct the violations," he said.

Hastings said Jackson was negotiating with the city to buy a vacant lot next to 424 N. Jonathan St. and build a house.

Hagerstown Community Development Manager George Andreve would not comment on any possible negotiations except to say the city has not agreed to sell the lot at this time.

Jackson, who lives in Gaithersburg, Md., could not be reached for comment.

Brooks predicted the demolition will renew residents' faith in the city.

City officials said code enforcement officers have made slow but steady progress in fixing major violations.

David said ordinances that took effect in September, raising fines from between $25 and $100 to between $200 and $1,000, have helped resolve a couple of long-standing problems.

David said 424 N. Jonathan St. had been difficult to deal with because it changed hands three times in the five years he has worked for the city.

"This is one of those examples where a lot of effort has been put into this with very little visible result," he said.

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