Residents deserve a better response to city blight problem

The good news is Marietta has demolished three burned out and otherwise hazardous houses — they haven’t been homes for years.

The bad news is there still — after seven years of community efforts — no systematic plan for dealing with the other 80 plus blighted, burned, uninhabitated, vacant and abandoned houses and buildings.

An hour-long meeting Wednesday of Marietta City Council Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Committee along with Finance Committee resulted in not one new idea offered, only the same ole “woe is us” anecdotal stories repeated over and over and over the years.

The lone bit of bait dangled was that the city set aside $5,000 to begin filing suits against the worst of the worst of the dirty dozen properties and their owners.

This is a procedure former Law Director Roland W. Riggs III said years ago could be used on at most two or three properties per year because of the cost and time consumed.

In the meantime, neighborhoods county-wide are being damaged by the blighted properties. It is costing money, health and safety and has resulted in people moving out of Marietta to get away from abandoned and neglected properties (one on Oakwood and one on Fourth streets.)

Although a number of community members took time from work and lives to attend Wednesday’s meeting, noticeably absent were the mayor, safety-service director and development director.

New council members Geoff Schenkel and Mike Scales need community and administration support in responding to community desire for dealing with the blight.

Code Enforcement Officer Wayne Reinhart has been working more than a year on solving blight issues, but he has not been provided the tools in the form of penalties for multiple and long-term offenders who simply thumb their noses in the city because they can.

A couple who have looked across the street at 708 Eighth St. as it has ruined their residential neighborhood for seven years asked for help, they were told they could sue the property owner.

Law Director Paul G. Bertram III says it all comes down to money, but examples statewide (Cambridge, Athens, Zanesville, Sandusky) of successful programs are virtually ignored here.

If Cambridge, population 11,000 can make it work, why can’t Marietta? It is about attitude, not money.

Council members Schenkel and Scales need community support to get them past being buried in the anecdotal stories some relish in spinning repeatedly. Been there, done that, over and over.

Pursue the worst of the worst-708 Eighth St. and 615-617 Putnam (Putnam and Seventh). File suits now. But also develop a long-term plan by year’s end.

Consider the the absentee owner and vacant building fire-fighting program used elsewhere, pass the legislation introduced to place minimal penalties of $25, $50 and $100 for documented nuisance complaints, and start publishing lists of the top 10 or 25 offending properties.

After seven years, the community deserves better. And without a comprehensive and systematic plan for dealing with blight damaging neighborhoods, Marietta may not survive another century.

Roger G. Kalter

Former 1st Ward Council Member