What's wrong with this picture?

July 17, 2011
  • Boards and piles of bricks and other building debris fill the backyard of 149 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown.
By Heather Keels/Staff Writer

The problem: A cascade of boards and piles of bricks and other building debris fill the backyard of 149 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown. Neighbor Melissa Langford said the property owner began tearing down the building more than a year ago, but no cleanup had been done.

“When it’s humid and all, like it has been the past couple of days, the smell from over there is horrendous, and when it storms and the wind blows, all that debris blows over and hits our screens and our air conditioners,” Langford said. “It’s terrible.”

She said she has also seen feral cats, groundhogs, opossums and rats living in the piles of debris.

Langford said she complained about the situation to Hagerstown’s code-enforcement officer and was told the city was working on getting the owner to clean it up, but she was frustrated that no progress has been made.

“With all the talk and attention being given to the improvement and revitalization of the downtown area ... am I to assume that improvement of downtown only means the front of these buildings?” she wrote in a letter.

Who could fix it: City of Hagerstown

What they say: John Lestitian, Hagerstown’s director of community and economic development, said Friday that the city took the owner to court over the condition of the property.

The case was resolved on July 5 when a judge ruled that the property had to be torn down. The owner has up to 30 days to appeal.

Lestitian said the owner, Hagerstown Mezzanine Project LLC, has a demolition permit that’s good until October.

The owner has done some demolition, such as taking down a gable roof in the last several weeks, but hasn’t been moving as consistently and quickly as the city would like, Lestitian said.

If the owner doesn’t follow through on the rest of the work, the city can step in, do it and charge the owner.

However, the city council would have to approve that measure in this case because of the expense — an estimated $40,000 to $60,000, Lestitian said.

“Right now, we don’t believe we have a public safety issue,” he said.

That might change in the winter, when a heavy snow load could make the building dangerous, he said.

 — Compiled by Andrew Schotz and Heather Keels

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Editor’s note: Each Monday, The Herald-Mail will highlight an infrastructure issue or other problem and will try to find out what is being done to fix or improve the situation.
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