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Re: Neighbors live next to mess that's not been a city priority
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Posted on: 2007/6/14 14:28
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Neighbors live next to mess that's not been a city priority
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Jarrett Renshaw's column in the Journal

June 13, 2007

A h! Summer has arrived.

Time to break out the grill, turn up the radio and drink a cold one - that is unless your name is Paul Gurczeski or Carroll Barron.

For these Whiton Street residents, summer means something different. It's bug spray, indoor meals and repeated, unanswered calls to City Hall begging for some help to deal with the two blighted properties that stain the block between their well-pruned homes.

"If you want to barbecue, it's impossible. The mosquitoes eat you alive," said Gurczeski, as he smacked his neck. "I had to get rid of my pool because you couldn't swim out here."

The broken windows, boarded-up doors, overgrown weeds and birds that call 324 and 326 Whiton St. home are unsightly symbols of the years of neglect that have diminished the quality of life on the block for more than a decade.

"There are dozens of cats there," Barron said, while pointing to 5-foot weeds that stretch into his yard from the yard next door. "But I don't mind the cats, because they keep out the rats and the mice."

Someone broke into one of the privately owned properties last year, and police and fire officials were called to the scene. Within minutes, fire officials were running from the house after they realized someone had turned on the gas on the stove.

"It's not just ugly, it's dangerous," said Gurczeski, who has lived in his home for 35 years.

Last August, Gurczeski contacted the Mayor's Action Bureau, which is quickly becoming the Inaction Bureau.

He is still waiting for a response, much like the folks who petitioned the same office regarding the nearby Reliable Wood Recycling plant.

This spring, he asked city officials to come and cut down the overgrown weeds, and three different agencies said they would be removed by Memorial Day. He is still waiting.

If Joe Citizen fails to get answers, surely an elected official would be more successful.

"I am at my wits' end trying to get things done. Nobody seems able to do anything, and I don't even get my phone calls returned," said Ward F Councilwoman Viola Richardson. "We need stricter enforcement of these properties in terms of the upkeep . it's a nuisance, and it's hazardous."

The city has finally begun condemnation proceedings on the two properties, with one of the proceedings getting its start just days after this reporter began asking questions - city officials call it a coincidence.

City sources tell me the construction office has "sporadically" enforced laws in the past few years that require property owners to clean up their property, or make them structurally sound, or face condemnation by the city.

Often, like at Whiton Street, there are substantial liens on the properties, a telling sign that the owner has long given up on a property. Combine absentee property owners with lien holders who have no incentive or responsibility to clean up a property and you have a large problem for the city.

In recent months, the construction office under the leadership of Ray Meyer has initiated more than 60 condemnation proceedings in the city, but there's no way of knowing what percentage the number represents, since there is no city agency that keeps track of all problem properties in the city - it would be wise to start one.

Often, this has woken up property owners or forced the hands of lien holders to foreclose on the property and begin taking responsibility - all of which are great things for the people of Jersey City.

A quick review of records shows that the construction office has issued two notice of condemnation proceedings in other parts of the city - one at 38 Van Nostrand Avenue and another at 25 Troy Street - saying these two properties are in imminent danger of collapse.

Guess who owns these properties?

Well, if you guessed Jersey City, you would be right.

Posted on: 2007/6/14 14:07
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