M'ville official: Fixing blighted buildings a challenge

2013-08-31T19:16:00Z 2013-08-31T22:55:14Z M'ville official: Fixing blighted buildings a challengeChas Reilly chas.reilly@nwi.com, (219) 662-5324 nwitimes.com
August 31, 2013 7:16 pm  • 

MERRILLVILLE | The frustration was evident in a Merrillville official's voice as she discussed blighted properties in the town.

Zoning Director Dorinda Gregor said Merrillville has procedures in place to require improvements to neglected structures, but it can be a complicated and long process.

Town leaders discussed the issue last week after a resident expressed concerns about the many damaged buildings in town. The resident also asked what can be done to address the issue.

A hearing officer takes up cases regarding structures in violation of town code during Merrillville's monthly unsafe and blighted building hearings.

Attorney Mike Deppe, who represents Merrillville during the hearings, said there are several lingering cases involving property owners who have indicated they haven't made repairs because they don't have enough money.

The hearing officer can issue fines if improvements aren't done, but those who can't afford to fix their homes likely won't be able to pay the fines, Gregor said.

Deppe said Merrillville attempts to work with owners of neglected properties by directing them to organizations that might be able to help them with improvements.

He said incentives also have been offered, such as waiving fines if repairs are done within a certain time frame.

If a building is beyond repair, the hearing officer can order it to be demolished, Deppe said.

An issue with that option is there isn't an abundance of town funding available to complete that work, Gregor said.

Although getting blighted buildings in compliance can be difficult at times, there have been many occasions in which the unsafe and blighted hearings have been successful, Deppe said.

He also said there are times when residents who have completed repairs required through the hearings are back months later because their homes have fallen into disrepair again.

Deppe and Gregor said neglected homes can result in many issues in a neighborhood, including reducing property values and affecting aesthetics.

Deppe recalled a unique issue that was created when people who abandoned a home left meat in a freezer before they left.

As the meat rotted, it created a foul odor, which nearby residents "had to deal with" until the town could obtain a court order allowing Merrillville to enter the home and remove the meat, Deppe said.

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