It is an eyesore. It smells just terrible. It is surrounded in shattered glass and debris. An overfilled dumpster has been sitting next to it for months, and the entire property remains untouched. It attracts rodents ranging from mice to raccoons and opossums. And the worst part just might be that there isn’t a thing anyone can do about it.
“It” is a burned down property located at 2618 Mann Road in Lower Providence Township. On Sept. 18, 2013, the single-family split-level was gutted by a roaring fire. At that time, the home was owned, according to county property records, by a couple: Michael F. and Erin E. Cortellessa.
Since then, Lower Providence Township residents, neighbors of the home and township employees have attempted to get an updated status on the home. Will it be sold? Torn down? Rebuilt? To date, that question remains unanswered.
Township Community Development Director Michael W. Mrozinski said that, as it stands, a bank currently has taken over ownership due to foreclosure.
“We are unfortunately limited as to what we can do,” said Mrozinski. “I’ve gone to the bank, but it is very hard to get a response.”
As the lawn has been mowed, there are currently no direct violations of code facing the home or its owners.
According to the ordinances of Lower Providence Township, only one code exists mentioning such a situation at all. Ordinance 143-151 is labeled “Buildings destroyed by fire or condemned.” The ordinance states:
“A building containing a nonconforming use and a building nonconforming as to area and height destroyed by fire or legally condemned may be reconstructed and used for the same nonconforming use, provided that building when rebuilt does not exceed the height and area of the building so destroyed or condemned subject also to other regulations of nonconforming uses herein contained.”
In other words, the property MAY be rebuilt for the same use (residential home). However it is only the second portion that notes what may be done if the home is NOT immediately rebuilt.
“If building reconstruction is not started within one year from the date the building was damaged or destroyed and is not carried on without interruption, it shall be presumed that the landowner has intended to abandon such nonconforming use.”
The township would, in short, have to prove, after Sept. 18, 2014, that the property has been sitting with no action taken for a year. Thus far, neighbors say that is the case. Other than the boarding up of windows, the placement of padlocks on doors and the addition of the dumpster, nothing has been done to rebuild the home.
Frank X. Custer, director of communications for Montgomery County, said that there is no arm of county law that handles such situations.
“There is no county department that would get involved with that type of property,” said Custer. “That is strictly a local issue.”
Mrozinski said that he is doing what he can to stay on top of developments with the property.
“I did visit the site, take some more pictures, checked that the house appeared to be secure, and that the grass was being cut, but have not determined the intentions of the bank,” he said. “We have it on record, and it is hard to deal with because we get no response (from the bank.)”
In the meantime, the neighbors surrounding the property are furious.
“They come and cut the grass, and that is it,” said neighbor Kristine Daley. “I have more critters in my yard than I’ve ever seen in 17 years of living here.”
With a small dog, Daley fears for the safety of her pet with such rodents scurrying through her yard. The property is additionally an eyesore, as Daley’s backyard, which is well kept with a pool, hot tub and outdoor fire pit, all with a direct view of the decaying property.
Daley said it has been an issue for the neighborhood since the fire last fall.
“The neighbors are annoyed with the mess we have to look at,” she said.
Across the street, neighbor Justin Carbonara is just as enraged. The mother of three young children, she fears for their safety, not to mention the visually disturbing image she is forced to face daily.
“Stuff is always blowing in the street,” said Carbonara. “I’ve seen people dumpster diving. It is disappointing that no one has answered us.”
During the school year, her children have to use the sidewalk adjacent to the property due to the location of their bus stop. She said she’d even more content knowing the future intent of the property.
“Is it being fixed or completed? I would feel better just knowing, but unfortunately no one can do that,” Carbonara, a nine-year resident, said. “It is a stink box. Lower Providence doesn’t have any answers.”
Mrozinski said he will stay on the case and do what he can to take care of the eye sore.
“We are limited in what we can do as local government,” he said. “It is a bad situation.”