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Published: Wednesday, 2/6/2008

Sylvania Township authorities take aim at hazardous residences

Among the first on the Sylvanis Township list of nuisance residential properties is a once-handsome brick house at 7510 Wind River Drive.
Among the first on the Sylvanis Township list of nuisance residential properties is a once-handsome brick house at 7510 Wind River Drive.

A new provision in state law has prompted Sylvania Township officials to take a renewed look at nuisance residential properties in an attempt to get them fixed up or demolished.

One of the first is a once-handsome brick house at 7510 Wind River Drive.

It was damaged in a November, 2006, fire.

Last summer, the Lucas County building inspection department judged the house, owned by FNG Holding LLC, to be repairable. But after snowfall later last year, a reinspection resulted in a declaration that it had become unsafe and was thus a total loss.

Hugh Thomas, township administrator, said the roof wasn't secured sufficiently. After snow and ice got in, a sequence of freezing and thawing left the house more severely damaged than had previously been the case, he said.

Tim DeWitt, the township's planning and zoning manager, said state law had not given counties or townships much authority over hazardous residential buildings until a new provision took effect Jan. 1.

The provision essentially extended local governments' authority over commercial and industrial property to include residential property.

Mr. DeWitt noted that the township by itself doesn't have additional authority, but county governments do, and the township can enlist the county's aid when properties become a problem.

John Walter, Lucas County's chief building official, said his next step will be to write a letter to notify "the appropriate people" of the building code violation.

The process will be slowed somewhat by the need to determine who falls in the category of "appropriate."

"You have banks, insurance companies, and probably lien holders, which could include government agencies," he said.

The letters essentially will demand that the property be repaired, or the county may order its demolition.

Those with a financial interest in the property can appeal his decision to the state board of appeals, and could appeal any decision at that level to common pleas court.

Mr. Walter mentioned, as did the township officials, that this is the first time they have used the new state code provision for enforcement on a residential property.

Now that the property has been declared unsafe, the township fire department has determined that firefighters won't enter if it should catch fire.

Mr. DeWitt said he's hopeful the process can move quickly. Once spring arrives, he said, the building could attract varmints or even curious youngsters interested in exploring it - at risk to their safety.

Mr. Thomas said he's hopeful that the revised state law will be effective in abating the nuisance on Wind River as well as others, but acknowledged that "we have no model to follow."

This is a first for us, "but the prospect is much better than before."

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