Inspector Lyn Lundquest takes a photo of the VIN on a vehicle sitting in an alley off East Streicher Street during Wednesday’s patrol.
Listen up, T-Town.
The fight against blight is on, big time.
Not only is the city serious about the situation, but residents are being called to action as well.
Wednesday was Day One for the city’s new partnership of police and inspectors who periodically will patrol together to identify blighted conditions and property-maintenance issues that can translate into criminal activity, such as when people strip copper from vacant buildings.
The new partnership is part of Mayor D. Michael Collins’ T-Town Initiative, said Chris Zervos, the city’s director of inspection.
At midmorning, Jeff Dorner, a Toledo community service police officer, was on patrol with a city inspector who was vocal about boarded-up houses in North Toledo.
“I have that one in court,” said Lyn Lundquest, property maintenance and zoning inspector with Toledo’s department of inspections, division of code enforcement. Another house. “I have that one in court.” Another house. “I have that one in court.”
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Officer Dorner and Mr. Lundquest, as well as Sean O’Neill, a department of inspections trainee, emerged from the police vehicle to get a closer look at a structure where plywood no longer was secured on a front door. Notes were jotted on log sheets. Cameras snapped photos.
Insects with stingers swarmed around a pole near the front steps. Lilies bloomed orange alongside the structure, adjacent to vacant lots of weeds and grass tall enough for deer to take protective cover during dinner.
Trainee Sean O’Neill scans a clipboard loaded with paperwork that is to be filled out during an inspection for the city’s first partnership patrol.
Targeted complaints during the summer often focus on vegetation. “The big thing is high grass and weeds,” said Mr. Lundquest, who would spend the afternoon on paperwork related to violations noted during the patrol. “One of my big goals is to make the homeowner responsible,” he said.
Mowing grass can make some neighborhoods look better, but not when property owners walk away from structures that end up as eyesores. Mr. Lundquest requests demolition of structures through the Lucas County Land Bank.
Officer Dorner, who grew up in Toledo, said he’s not surprised to see blight in the city. He’s familiar with the blocks of boarded-up, abandoned eyesores. “I’m more saddened than surprised,” he said. It’s not the city he knew 20 years ago. What happened? Some people no longer care how their properties look; they lack pride in place, he said.
“We only can do enforcement,” he said. “We can’t lecture them.”
However, this new initiative could be a wake-up call, an incentive for city residents to turn off the snooze button, to get up and get involved. House by house, block by block, improvement could happen.
As they patrolled the neighborhood, Mr. Lundquest noted the fresh coat of purple paint on a house and garage, a code-enforcement success story.
Noted too were houses where ownership pride was evident: bouquets of beauty sprouting from flower pots; American flags fluttering from poles on porches; backyard patio areas brimming with freshness and flair.
Jonah Sowards drills a panel to make a cover for his air conditioner at his home at 2915 E St. His property was noted as an example of pride in ownership.
At a home on E Street, a saw buzzed. Something good was going on.
Jonah Sowards, 64, was busily building a protective cover for an air-conditioner unit. “If someone wants it, they are going to have to work to get it,” he said.
This isn’t the best neighborhood, he said. But he could afford the house he bought. A retired maintenance worker, Mr. Sowards makes a statement with his property improvements and with his don’t-mess-with-me attitude.
“I am not going to let people scare me out of my home.”
A good idea
When he learned about the new initiative, his response was swift and positive. “I think that’s a good idea,” he said.
Mr. Sowards figures if he can keep his property respectable, others can too.
“That’s what I like to see. That’s what turns things around,” said Mr. O’Neill, who filled out forms during the patrol. It’s everyone’s problem to address blight and nuisance issues, he said.
In addition to the new partnership launched Wednesday, the city is doing extensive prep work for an accelerated demolition project, Mr. Zervos said. Some 550 structures are to be torn down, financed by the Lucas County Land Bank. Tear-down work is scheduled to start in September or October, said Jim Stvartak, Toledo’s chief general inspector for code enforcement.
Much work is involved before the first structure comes down: “utility kills,” or cutting service to lines including gas, asbestos surveys, etc. It is easy to apply to start a house, but it’s more difficult to get the house “undone,” Mr. Zervos said. But people forget that demolition involves infrastructure, he said. Unless proper preparation takes place, water and sewer lines could be harmed, and the same for gas and other utilities.
Another T-Town Initiative, a block-by-block quality of life and blight remediation incident action plan, begins July 24.
The city, which is taking proactive measures to assist the city’s neighborhoods to address a wide variety of issues that adversely impact quality of life and appearance of neighborhoods, is creating a task force of resources to address those issues. The task force will be led by the police department and department of inspection, with personnel and equipment to be mobilized in specific areas.
The primary mission will be to engage in quality-of-life problem-solving and blight/nuisance remediation: pick up refuse and other dumped material; cut tall grass and weeds; secure vacant and/or abandoned properties; remedies for abandoned and illegally parked vehicles; remove graffiti; identify poorly maintained properties that require more comprehensive problem solving; identify specific crime problems, such as prolific offenders and hot spots that will require more comprehensive problem solving, and create partnerships with neighborhood residents to identify sustainability strategies specific to the area.
The action plan is designed to engage the neighbors, Mr. Zervos said. “They have to come out, they have to help. Once we are done, the neighborhood goes back to them.”
A sign sets down rules on a vacant lot at F Street and Saint John Avenue in North Toledo. The patrol said area residents will have to report tall weeds or rubbish.
If problems erupt after the task force finishes its mission in a certain area, it is up to the residents to report it, he said. If there is vandalism, illegal dumping, tall weeds and grass, “they have to call. They have to help stop it,” he said.
He pointed out the city has assistance programs for residents who qualify, income-wise, for home improvements.
In a speech earlier this week to the Beverly Block Watch, Mayor Collins, who was out of town Wednesday, announced that he would launch the T-Town neighborhood cleanup program with an expanded force of community service police officers.
The concept, he said, was drawn from inspiration he got years ago from Liz Pierson, a community activist and ardent volunteer, and a community cleanup competition in Ireland called Tidy Towns.
Ms. Pierson, who died in 1998 and founded one of the nation’s largest Block Watch programs, would “tell you crime and blight” and “trashy neighborhood and criminal acts go hand in hand. So clean up the city,” the mayor told about 75 people who gathered at the monthly meeting in a South Toledo church.
The Tidy Towns program, which first began in 1958, is held each year between May and August to honor the tidiest and most attractive cities, towns, and villages in Ireland. It is sponsored by the government’s Department of the Environment, Community, and Local Government and a supermarket chain.
Each year, one community is selected for improvements made to landscaping, wildlife and natural amenities, litter control, tidiness, and residential areas and other properties.
“That is the way it works there; can that translate over to the United States? Is it reality or is it a dream? I don’t think it is completely either. I think there is reality there,” Mayor Collins said. “The neighborhoods are the responsibility of the people who live in the neighborhoods.”
During his mayoral campaign last fall Mr. Collins often touted a plan to clean up the city, a concept he then called Tidy Towns.
T-Town was selected for the name of the initiative because it is specific to Toledo, Ms. Ward said on Wednesday.
Staff writer Mark Reiter contributed to this report.
Contact Janet Romaker at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6006.