The Holyoke Public Safety Committee held a meeting last night including the Building Demolition permitting group. Almost every city councilor was in attendance, as well as dozen members of the public.
The Permitting Group seemed to know very well what people wanted to know beforehand. Why was $400K being spent to take down a building on Maple Street, and why wasn't the building owner being held responsible?
The Group went around one by one describing what they did, how the process worked - everything they go through with vacant, run down, and abandoned buildings in Holyoke. They eluded to the long story behind the Maple Street building, and several other buildings that have degraded over the years.
One problem they listed was the fact that people flipped properties when the city began catching up with them causing the city to start the process all over again. Another thing that happens is deeds don't get registered after cash transactions, so the city wastes time going after the wrong person. One thing I found annoying is that the City has outstanding warrants for property owners who failed to respond, but the city can't touch these people because they live out of state. The city had gone so far as to call the governor's office to try and get the State Police to cross state lines in pursuit of one property owner with an arrest warrant. The city knew exactly where the person lived, but couldn't touch him unless he entered Mass. The State has no laws allowing for such a pursuit, and seemingly no intentions of creating them.
An encouraging thing mentioned during the meeting was the State's receivership program in which a neighborhood building owner, in good standing, could take over abandon properties, run them, and eventually own them. The decision of who gets these properties is up to the judge, and he chooses from a list of people already signed up. It works best with properties that still have some income coming in. The problem with much of Holyoke's abandoned properties is that they are not financially viable any longer. Even if they look good on the outside the amount of money it would take to bring them back is more than they would ever be worth.
Another positive note was the new Holyoke Redevelopment Authority. It does have the power to deal with these properties in a strong way, but hasn't gotten off the ground yet.
In the video Chief LaFond talks about the X signs the Fire department puts on buildings.
Overall I wasn't happy with the information offered up. Even thought the Group portrayed their work as exhaustive, it seemed rather weak in comparison to what other cities do. Please don't get me wrong, theses are good people - working hard on this issue, but I can't help think that with some new codes, or different way of looking at things, they could be working smarter. This is something the next Mayor will probably have to deal with.
No public questions were allowed during the meeting, and it lasted little more than an hour and a half.
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