Cumberland continues fight against blight

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Elaine Blaisdell, Cumberland Times-News, January 16, 2011

CUMBERLAND - The city continues to work its way through eradicating blighted properties.

"The goal for the city is to have blight eliminated through razing or through revitalization, and we actively seek ways to get properties revitalized if they are structually sound," said Mayor Brian Grim, who was recently appointed to serve on the Blight Committee.

The committee reviews blighted structures and makes recommendations by maintaining a focus group and a monitor group of properties, in addition to the hundreds of others that city staff continuously monitors at varying degrees, according to Grim.  As of November, the focus group has had 10 properties that have seen some action coming toward a resolution.  The monitor group has handled two properties, one in a status of legal-limbo and the other on a scheduled time line for repairs to be completed, with a deadline established.

"I've personally noted hundreds of blighted properties in Cumberland, and city staff have reviewed them and we continue to monitor them," said Grim.

Typically, the city will not get involved in fixing up the blighted property and instead seeks people who will take ownership of the properties and either raze or revitalize the property and who will begin to pay tax on the property.  Recent examples of individuals buying properties include the sale of 224-226 Grand Ave. to Leslie Halapy of Mar-Les Properties LLC and 482 Goethe St. to John McCabe and Doris Byrd.

However, in some cases, the city will take ownership of structures, through tax sales and sheriff's sales and will then begin to assemble plans to raze or turn over the property.  When the city gains access but does not take ownership of the property, using the nuisance property ordinance, the city usually aims to raze the blighted structure as a matter of ridding the neighborhood of a public safety nuisance.

In order to obtain the ultimate goal of ridding Cumberland of blighted properties, Grim has set several goals.

"Over the next few years, my goal will be to encourage blight removal through partnerships with private entities.  The city may acquire structures, then turn them over to private, often-times neighboring property owners at a very low cost with the agreement that the blight be removed at the new owners' cost as a condition of taking ownership," said Grim.  "The end result is a win-win, as the city removes blight, collects taxes on the property once again, and the neighborhood has green space where there once was a blighted house."

Grim plans on using recently razed space for community gardens and to make more room for neighborhoods that need parking.

"Additionally, as the city acquires lots, I would hope to see them marketed together to a developer for the opportunity to build new housing in several locations rather than on one large lot in one neighborhood," said Grim.

Should the city seek to raze a property, Community Development Block Grant funds can be used once public comment is sought on these properties and funds.  CDBG provides federal funding every year and Cumberland has received about $1 million this year.  Only a small portion of that would be allotted for the demolition of blighted properties. 

Public comment is still being sought on 7 North Waverly Terrace and written comments on this property are due by Feb. 4.  The public comment period on 27 Ridgeway Terrace and 301-303 Columbia St. ended Dec. 22.  Two comments were received regarding acquiring the properites.  If the city should favor these recommendations, they would be discussed in a public meeting.

Should the city decide not to go with the recommendations, it will communicate with Maryland Historical Trust, according to Kathy McKenney, historic planner/preservation coordinator.

"If the course of action will be to demolish the properties it would be a lengthy process," said McKenney.  "Should someone acquire the property, the process would be between that person and the city and wouldn't be as lengthy."

The city is working to preserve, acquire and abate taxes and utility charges on structures at 164-166 and 168-170 N. Centre St.

The next Blight Committee meeting will be held Wednesday at 9 a.m. at City Hall.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.