Conservatorship Law can rehabilitate abandoned properties

Is there an abandoned, derelict property on your block? The state of Pennsylvania has an app for that.

It’s not a smart-phone application, but rather a legislative one. In 2008, the General Assembly passed Act 135, also known as the Conservatorship Law, which allows residents, businesses and nonprofit groups to take over vacant and blighted properties, rehabilitate them and sell them to cover expenses associated with the process.

Marc Collazzo, the district office manager for one of the legislation’s lead co-sponsors, Rep. John Taylor, last week invited the new Wissinoming Civic Association to take advantage of the Act 135 provisions.

Speaking during the civic group’s May 26 meeting, Collazzo described the act as a method “to take these blighted eyesores and put them back into productive use.”

There are about 40,000 eligible properties across the city, Collazzo said. The legislation specifically targets residential, commercial and industrial properties, but some organizations have sought to apply the process to additional sites owned by the city, other public agencies, religious institutions and nonprofit organizations.

Typically, applicable properties will be uninhabited and not marketed for sale with code violations, unpaid taxes or utility bills and absentee owners. An individual, business or group based within a designated proximity may petition Common Pleas Court to be named as a conservator.

Attempts will be made to notify the owner of the action. If the owner fails to reclaim the property, the conservator can rehabilitate it with the help of third-party financing. Upon the property’s resale, proceeds will be paid to lienholders and the conservator, which is entitled to a fee.

“The (previous) owner is at the bottom of the list of lienholders,” said Collazzo.

Conservatorship is a better option than the city seizing the delinquent property and disposing of it at sheriff’s sale, under which a community would have little control over who buys the property and what its new use will be.

Collazzo further explained that there are several nonprofit advocacy groups that specialize in conservancy and can help inexperienced organizations like the Wissinoming Civic Association through the process.

A second guest speaker during the May 26 civic meeting asked residents to back efforts by a national non-profit organization to block the construction of a pipeline for transporting natural gas into the city from Northeastern Pennsylvania.

A spokesman for Food & Water Watch claimed that the operators of Philadelphia’s Passyunk Avenue petroleum refinery complex — the largest on the East Coast — are championing an effort to turn the city into the nation’s next “energy hub,” a concept that the Food & Water Watch folks like to call the “dirty fossil fuel hub.”

The Philadelphia Energy Solutions refineries are the region’s largest producers of air pollution and are also responsible for bringing potentially dangerous oil trains into the city, FWW claims. The energy hub could multiply both environmental safety threats.

FWW advocates for “safe and sustainable” economic growth in the city, the spokesman said. A petition authored by the non-profit group seeks to compel City Council to ban certain types of rail cars from entering the city, oppose the construction of a new Marcellus shale gas pipeline (lest the state’s gas production decline), ban the transport and storage of liquefied natural gas in the city and advocate for the development of the region’s renewable energy industries.

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