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Drug paraphernalia found at blighted structure

Officials grow concerned about fire risk from squatters

Photos by Janelle Patterson From left, Marietta City Councilman Geoff Schenkel listens to the observations of Tanner Huffman and Adam Murphy concerning the securing of the blighted property at 115 Gilman Ave. on Tuesday.

Instead of generations of physicians’ history dating back to Marietta’s 1788 settlers, the city’s labor crews were greeted Tuesday with drug paraphernalia elevated within arm’s reach of a city sidewalk in view of Harmar Elementary School on Gilman Avenue.

With gloves on and a crumpled, emptied water bottle in his left hand, Adam Murphy collected first the hypodermic needle to the left of the front stoop, at hip height.

He then moved to the right of the stoop, where a cracked glass pipe also lay in plain view.

Both items at eye-level of neighboring toddlers who watched the city crew.

Both collected in the bottle.

But Murphy, Justin Dennis, Jake Brown and Foreman Tanner Huffman, all members of the city’s public works department, weren’t initially dispatched by Safety-Service Director Steve Wetz on Tuesday to clean up items used to consume illicit drugs.

“That will need to go straight to the police department,” the retired highway patrolman advised, concurring with Murphy and Marietta City Councilman Geoff Schenkel’s assessment of the items as evidence alleging further public danger within the vicinity of the dilapidated historic structures at 115-117 Gilman Ave.

Wetz initially dispatched the public works staff to prevent further breach of the deteriorating main structure, 115 Gilman Ave., Tuesday after evidence of and reports of human traffic into the abandoned structures continued this week.

“I just worry someone is going to take shelter in there while it’s this cold,” said one neighbor asking not to be named as they stood in the 28-degree weather watching.

Huffman said he plans to return with the crew today to further pad with fill dirt and additional plywood on the back porch where the men were observed by neighbors as they backed in a small dump truck with fill dirt and used plywood to shore up growing openings in the foundation.

“People can easily climb down in these,” Huffman observed. “That hole is huge.”

Both 115 and 117 Gilman Ave. are known most recently as the city’s top priority blighted property following eight years of decay both before the demise of deceased owner Donald Rose (who was found in the property in November of 2014) and thereafter as the property’s southern-most wall continues to bulge towards the private homes of Marietta residents and neighbors report the comings and goings of squatters continuing to break into the properties for shelter.

“I’m surprised it hasn’t gone up in flames, especially with how it’s been cold out,” said Huffman. “If people climb in here, they might light a fire inside to stay warm.”

Tuesday, the brick structure at 115 Gilman Ave. finally displayed a red-and-white “X” metal sign requested of the city’s fire department and code enforcement office for more than two years.

The sign, repeated on other dangerous structures including the former wine shop on Front Street and the former strip mall at the corner of Putnam and Seventh streets serves as notice to firefighters that if the structure were to be consumed in flames, no entry should be made into the condemned structure.

Neighbors and the city crew present Tuesday confirmed that the sign was new, adhered beneath a new condemnation notice from the city code enforcement office, also clearly not weathered by rain or other such winter elements.

Neighbors shared that worry of fire, overdose and collapse again Tuesday, reiterating the continued lack of answer from the city officials concerning their primary question:

Are any or multiple structural portions of 115 Gilman Ave. in imminent danger of collapse?

Others have taken to email and social media to instead call for the preservation of the brick structure and parallel small structure (117 Gilman Ave.), ignoring calls for the primacy of human life over the preservation of monuments to past lives.

What is that history?

Some local historians have referred to the two structures in connection to physicians of the Hart family in Marietta’s first settlement dating, according to one Julia Cutler in 1866, as early as late 1788.

In the published “Genealogical history of Deacon Stephen Hart and his descendants, 1632- 1875,” Marietta is mentioned 99 times in the 638-page publication documenting the family. Harmar is mentioned 45 times, with coinciding entries noting several members of the Hart family serving as Marietta/Harmar successful physicians and with subsequent sons and cousins attending Marietta College and following in the profession:

“Dr. Seth Hart, Harmar, son of Joel, born in 1804, has been a physician since the year 1825, in Harmar and Marietta, and is still vigorous and active.”

“Dr. Benjamin Franklin Hart, Marietta, born in 1823, son of Benjamin, of New Britain, is a practicing physician of large business in Marietta.”

“Dr. Samuel Hart, Marietta, 0., son of Dr. Seth, of Harmar, has an extensive medical practice in that city.”

“Dr. Simeon Deming Hart, Washington County, born in 1818, son of Benjamin Hart, of Watertown, is a physician at Marietta, 0., and superintendent of the Childrens’ Home.”

Though no record in the National Park Service recognizes the 115 or 117 Gilman Ave.. structures specifically as historically significant, the two structures, identified as the “Doctor Hart House and Office” — presumably referring to Dr. Seth Hart, of Waterford — on a map of the Harmar Historic District are noted in the Dec. 1974 district designation.

But that more than 200-year-old history is not at the center of a stalled city lawsuit against the properties.

Neighbors again asked the Times Tuesday of the city’s lawsuit to obtain and mitigate the blighted properties; inquiring to the stalled action first promised for filing by Thanksgiving in 2020 by Law Director Paul Bertram and then by year’s end.

The neighbors repeated fears for the safety of children who live in proximity of the structures, who walk past the structures on their way to Marietta City Schools, fears of the possibility of sinkholes along the southern property line from a rotted tree in the city right-of-way which appears to be buckling city sidewalk to the back of the property following buckling of an exterior wall, the disruption of an electrical box and gas meters and leading to another rotting tree at the rear of the property.

On Dec. 30, 2020, Bertram confirmed to the Times and Schenkel that he has received City Project Manager Eric Lambert’s formal structural assessment of 115 Gilman Ave., though claimed attorney-client privilege of said document until such time as it is filed.

Bertram stated that he is still gathering the witness statements provided by the councilman from neighbors who continue to allege fear for their lives and the safety of their children sleeping and playing beneath the shadow of the 1830s brick structure.

Also pending are the 39 citizen requests for the two buildings’ demolition as mitigation of slum and blight through the use of Community Development Block Grant funds in the 2021 federal fiscal year.

Those requests were submitted during the initial public comment period last summer on requests for CDBG funding both for fiscal year 2021 and for a consolidated plan (three years), but such a plan’s completion stalled under the former development administrator Mike Gulliver before his exit from the city administration.

Now the new administrator, former assistant law director Daniel Everson is taking the reins of completing that work with Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Chairman Schenkel, Bertram and Wetz.

Bertram has previously explained that such demolition, if ordered as the form of mitigation by Washington County Common Pleas Judge John Halliday, cannot occur without first the conclusion of the city case open before Halliday against the estate of Donald Rose.

Schenkel summarized Friday in explaining one purpose of the case is to legally obtain the property out of the deceased’s possession.

The court could also order a specified time limit, timeline and both building and flood code restraints if granting mitigation via renovation of the structure(s).

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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