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On East Franklin Street, no fix yet for condemned buildings

The six downtown Hagerstown properties have four different owners

January 10, 2013|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • A conjoined cluster of six properties on East Franklin Street have been condemned by the City of Hagerstown.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — For at least a year, a conjoined cluster of six properties on East Franklin Street has had a significant structural problem — a collapsed basement wall.

Paul W. Fulk, an inspection manager in the Hagerstown Department of Community and Economic Development’s Planning and Code Administration Division, said the wall is between 326 and 326 1/2 E. Franklin St.

The City of Hagerstown heard from one of the owners about the failing wall on Oct. 18, 2011, and sent a structural engineer to the site, then condemned the buildings, Fulk said.

Fourteen months later, the problem lingers.

The tricky part has been getting the five owners of the six private properties to reach a consensus, city officials said.

The city is working with the owners, but it’s up to them to figure out what to do with their property, Fulk said.

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“If the owners fail to take action, we’ll have to,” said Kathleen Maher, the city’s planning director, who also manages code administration.

Fulk said there have been multiple meetings with the owners and their representatives.

“We’re getting more answers,” he said.

“We’re trying to act as a coordinator,” said John Lestitian, the city’s director of community and economic development.

It was not clear what, if anything, has been accomplished so far.

Mark Boyer, a lawyer representing the city, declined to talk about specifics of the situation, citing attorney-client confidentiality.

In April 2012, a city code administration officer charged Anna J. Taylor with failure to comply with an order to either demolish or repair 326 1/2 E. Franklin St.

The Maryland Judiciary’s online court database shows that Taylor pleaded guilty on Aug. 8. She was given probation before judgment and was fined $200, plus $5 in court costs.

Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records list Harold Edward and Anna J. Taylor of Hagerstown as the owners of both 326 1/2 and 328 E. Franklin St.

An attempt to reach them was unsuccessful.

Edward Button, an attorney who represented Anna Taylor in the municipal infraction case, didn’t return phone messages left at his office.

The four other property owners also could not be reached for comment.

State assessment records list them as:

  • Mohammad T. and Saira Khan of Hagerstown, for 322 1/2 E. Franklin St.
  • Wen Chih Yang, care of Yi-Chou Yang of Germantown, Md., for 324 E. Franklin St.
  • U.S. Liens LLC of Gambrills, Md., for 326 E. Franklin St.
  • Federal National Mortgage Association of Fort Washington, Pa., for 330 E. Franklin St.

Fulk said 322 1/2, 324 and 328 E. Franklin St. were occupied when the city condemned the properties.

Those residents found other places to live.

“From the moment we were alerted about this,” Lestitian said, “we took action to protect people.”

As it typically does with condemnations, the city posted copies of the violation letters on the doors of the properties.

A Notice of Violation addressed to Harold and Anna Taylor about 326 1/2 E. Franklin St. was reissued on Feb. 6, 2012, four months after the original notice.

The notice says the property violates an “Imminent Danger” section of the city’s Property Maintenance Code.

“The structure has displacement and deterioration of structural members and a partial collapse of foundation walls,” the notice says. “The entire structure is in danger of collapse or failure.”

In addition to notices on the individual building doors, the city placed orange and white traffic cones in the road in front of the properties, funneling traffic to the opposite side of the street.

Lestitian said that if the connected properties deteriorate further because of the collapsed interior wall, the buildings would fall inward, not out toward the road. The traffic cones are a precaution.

Property records list the buildings as more than 100 years old.

Fulk said they are “tied together” through overlapping joists.

The city has been involved in other condemnations, but Lestitian said that in his 11 1/2 years on the job, “I don’t recall running into a situation where it involved multiple owners in a row like that.”

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