Building is Blighted, City Says
Planning commission wants to rehab 120 Northampton Street.
A vacant downtown building moved one step closer to revitalization Wednesday when the Easton Planning Commission declared it a blighted property.
The determination will allow the municipality to take ownership of 120 Northampton Street through condemnation with the goal of repairing and renovating the building.
“We’d like to get it in some usable condition,” said Becky Bradley Director of the Department of Planning and Codes. “That’s the ultimate goal.”
In a unanimous voice vote, the board approved the designation on the building, which has been vacant for several years.
“For it to be a contribution to the community, some rehabilitation has to take place,” said commission Chairman Charles Elliott.
Without repairs, the building is and will be a safety hazard, said Bradley. She pointed out that in 2009 a nearby car was damaged when a board holding a shutter on the building fell off and hit the vehicle.
“It is a public, safety, health, and welfare issue first and foremost,” she said.
Now the Redevelopment Authority of Easton is tasked with devising a plan for reviving the building.
Bradley said that the Redevelopment Authority has several options. These include selling the building to an outside developer or creating and financing its own redevelopment plan for the building. Any plan that the Redevelopment Authority would make would have to be approved by the Planning Commission said Bradley.
The four story building is zoned for mixed residential and commercial use. At one time the building held a commercial business and six apartments according to Northampton County’s public records website. “There’s definitely a ton of possibilities,” said Bradley.
The Redevelopment Authority has its own budget and the ability to borrow to finance projects.
One thing that almost certainly won’t be done is the demolition of the building. As the building is located in the National Historic Registry it can’t be torn down unless the City has no choice according to Bradley.
The quest to achieve the blighted designation began in June 2009 when the Property Maintenance Review Board recommended that the Planning Commission move forward with the designation.
That month, Cindy Cawley, the City’s chief code administrator, found that the building met four of the eight listed criteria for blight under Pennsylvania’s Urban Redevelopment Law. These criteria were that the building was an attractive nuisance, unfit for human habitation, was not properly maintained, and it hadn’t been rehabilitated in more than a year.
The building's owner, Cihangir Ugucu, of Easton, was not present at the meeting and was not represented by any other party in attendance. His phone number is not publicly available. The law mandates that Ugucu must receive fair market value for his building.
In the past, he has challenged the city's determination that his property was blighted, but lost that battle in county court.
It is not unusual for owners of blighted buildings not to show up at the hearings according to Elliott. He said that he has presided over hearings for about five or six blighted buildings and at none has an owner shown up.
According to Bradley, Ugucu has done nothing to change Cawley’s 2009 report on the building. “It’s the same as it was before.”
Ugucu purchased the building in 2000 for $95,000 according to Northampton County records.
Bradley is unsure how much money Ugucu will be paid. The building is assessed at $83,000 dollars and often fair market value is two to three times the assessment, though that is not a hard rule. The bill for repairs is also unknowable until at least the Redevelopment Authority makes it report, a process that could take several months.