2017-02-18 / Front Page

Long slog in blight fight


Emporium continues its crackdown on dilapidated houses, businesses and rental properties. Borough Manager Don Reed (left) and Police Chief Dave Merritt are reviewing a checklist of deficiencies found at this house on South Wood Street. It’s one of seven properties whose owners were recently sent letters ordering them to address ordinance violations and health and safety issues. Emporium continues its crackdown on dilapidated houses, businesses and rental properties. Borough Manager Don Reed (left) and Police Chief Dave Merritt are reviewing a checklist of deficiencies found at this house on South Wood Street. It’s one of seven properties whose owners were recently sent letters ordering them to address ordinance violations and health and safety issues. Wheels of local government often move slowly, especially when it comes to infringing on private property rights.

That was the gist of the message delivered to Emporium residents who attended this month’s Borough Council meeting to air their frustration with the protracted crackdown on blight and absentee landlords.

Much of the focus was on the four properties owned by Matt Grimone, who has been fined for his failure to address many of the issues cited by inspectors.

In November, Grimone pleaded guilty to four violations and was granted a 60-day reprieve to address sanitary and safety issues. Then, in January, District Judge Barry Brown fined him more than $2,300 for continuing violations at properties on South Broad Street, Fourth Street and Fifth Street Extension.

Judge Brown warned Grimone that should further court action be needed, he could face additional fines of up to $1,000 per day and/or incarceration.

Borough officials conceded that Grimone has since made little progress on repairs, causing exasperation among neighbors and other residents.

“It’s frustrating for everyone involved, but there’s a procedure that must be followed,” said Council president LuAnn Reed. “The bottom line is, we’re not letting this go. We will continue with the legal process until he meets all his requirements.”

Police Chief Dave Merritt reported that Borough Manager Don Reed and Building Codes Inspector Russ Braun have been working with Grimone to develop a new plan of action and time frame.

Grimone’s properties have been the subject of numerous complaints over the past several years. Neighbors have reported that the rentals were unsecured, garbage was strewn throughout the properties, and vermin have inhabited the units.

Meanwhile, another local landlord is also facing scrutiny over renovations to his rundown property.

Fred Burkhouse was ordered in October 2015 to repair a dilapidated apartment complex on Sixth Street.

After receiving multiple extensions, Burkhouse met the minimum requirements of an agreement to clear the rental property of debris and correct health and safety deficiencies. Since those repairs were completed last March, Burkhouse has made no further effort to rehabilitate the complex, causing neighbors to complain.

Councilman Randy Frey acknowledged the frustration of residents, but said there’s little the borough can do.

“It’s a very difficult situation for us because we can get after health and safety issues, but we can’t regulate aesthetics,” explained Frey. “Once landlords meet the legal requirements, there’s not much we can do to force them to make their properties visually appealing.”

Several other property owners in apparent violation of borough ordinances have recently been notified that they, too, will have to comply.

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