Aleshire goes extra mile to annex a few feet

October 10, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

For two years Hagerstown Councilman Kristin Aleshire lived in a four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot home on Hagerstown's Highland Way, just a short walk from Hagerstown's City Park. The custom-built house was in beautiful shape, he said, with staircases four feet wide.

But the back yard was only as big as the average living room, which meant that the two large dogs he and his girlfriend owned had little space to run. And so Aleshire went house hunting.

He found one, located just on the edge of the city. In fact, the back yard was inside the city limits, but the house wasn't. But the back yard was half an acre and the house had a wraparound porch and a lot of potential.

A previous owner had begun a restoration with a nice paint job and had made interior Plexiglas storm window inserts to allow the house to keep its historic look. But then that person died and Aleshire said the next owner was more interested in revenue than history - or landscaping.


"I filled a dumpster with brush before we even got started on the house," Aleshire said.

Aleshire benefited from today's hot real estate market, getting an offer on his Highland Way house a half an hour after it was listed for sale.

Buying the new place took a little bit longer, Aleshire said, because to keep his seat on the council, he had to annex the house into the city before he moved in. To get the seller to hold the property until that was accomplished, Aleshire said he agreed to pay for any rent that would be lost.

Yes, rent. The nice old single-family house had been turned into three rental units, in what, to my untrained eye, seemed had been done in the quickest way and most economical way possible.

A duct to carry forced-air heat upstairs was cut through the middle of the home's main staircase, which means that those going up or down must squeeze past a two-foot-high sheet-metal box with vents on top of it. Closets were added, in one case, by nailing plywood into the historic home's front window seat.

Upstairs, commercial carpet was installed in a couple of rooms, not with the tack strips professional installers use, but by gluing it to the hardwood floors. That meant it would have to be ripped up and the floors sanded and stained.

Downstairs, doors were modified in a way that made it impossible to get normal-sized kitchen appliances in, unless of course Aleshire wanted to tear part of the wall out. (I'm purposely not identifying where the house is located because when I was there last, a brand new refrigerator was stranded on the front porch.)

"I didn't really realize what it would entail to make it a single-family home again," he said.

First there was the stockade fence, needed to keep the two large dogs inside. Because the property was half-in and half-out of the city, the officials he spoke to at first weren't sure whether he needed a city fence permit or one from county government.

He built the fence on faith before he'd settled on the house, he said, so that whatever else happened, when he moved in the dogs would have a place to run.

"I spent $1,500 on that before I ever purchased the house," he said.

Confusion from those he dealt with was a recurring theme, he said. Aleshire said Allegheny Power officials had trouble understanding why he no longer wanted multiple electric meters. Now he's writing that utility to argue that the city's Municipal Electric Light Department, which provides power to his garage on the "city side" of the lot, should provide power to entire property.

Verizon phone officials were also puzzled when he said that instead of three separate phone lines, he wanted just one line that rang all over the house. The same went for Antietam Cable.

He also had to work out an agreement to have the city's contractor collect the trash, since the city's trash charge is part of the property tax bill and therefore deductible.

When I was there about two weeks ago, confusion seemed to reign, since Aleshire said he and his girlfriend had decided "we weren't going to do one room at a time, but do everything all at once."

He may regret that as winter sets in, since a lot of what's on the big porch now needs to come inside before the snow falls - or the critters outside decide to settle down in one piece or another for the winter.

Still, it is preferable to my own method of home repair, which involves either delaying the job until I learn to live with things as they are, or misplacing whatever part or tool is essential to completing the job.

"At every turn, I thought 'This is going to be easy.' And then it wasn't," Aleshire said.

Asked if he'd have done all this work if he hadn't been a city councilman, Aleshire said "no." The cost of annexing the property into the city increased his costs by $3,000.

For someone who's already donating his entire council salary to charity, it seems quite a sacrifice. To continue dealing with issues most city residents don't understand or care about - such as sewer policy, for example - Aleshire is not only not getting paid, he's paying out of pocket for the privilege of serving. I hope his constituents appreciate it.

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