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Frustrated by blight, neighbors seek clarity on Schenectady demolition schedule

Frustrated by blight, neighbors seek clarity on Schenectady demolition schedule

Frustrated by blight, neighbors seek clarity on Schenectady demolition schedule
The vacant house at 792 Francis Ave. in Schenectady is pictured in April.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — An abandoned city-owned house in Mont Pleasant became a poster child for the city’s fight against blight earlier this year after the spring thaw revealed a trash-strewn lot.

Now at the start of summer, the house at 792 Francis Ave. is nearly unrecognizable. The two-story structure is hidden by a thicket of unruly wild shrubs and bushes as ivy slowly reclaims the building and a tree looms overhead. 

Harold Narain glanced at the property as he took a break from trimming his tidy front lawn with a weed wacker on Friday. 

“The vegetation is getting thicker and thicker and it’s pretty ugly,” Narain said. “[The city] can get us for every little thing, but look at this — this is in the hands of the city.”

A second abandoned property at 1023 Bridge St. poses similar problems.

Zorida Hatideen lives between the two derelict properties and can often feel besieged by the urban jungle that has taken root. 

She enlisted her son to prune back the trees hanging over her patio. Previously, a tree fell and destroyed her wooden garage. 

Hatideen pointed at a 2005 Volvo that appeared to materialize overnight in the driveway of the looming three-story structure.

“It’s disgusting,” she said.

Next door, a couch sits overturned in the driveway.

Both she and Narain wondered when the city would demolish the structures.

“They’ve taken too long with this,” she said.

Beyond aesthetics, blight is a public safety issue, Hatideen said, recalling a 2017 fire at the Francis Avenue property she suspected was caused by drug-using squatters.

Flames licked her home, which was occupied by four sleeping children at the time.

DEMOLITION IN SIGHT

End-games are in sight for both properties, officials said.

The Bridge Street property will be included in the next round of demolitions undertaken by the city this summer.

“We will have those out to bid in the late summer,” said Director of Development Kristin Diotte.

The Francis Avenue structure was among the 34 properties that have been included on a list of properties city officials and Capital Region Land Bank are evaluating as to whether the structures can be saved or should be demolished.

The structure will be taken down. But the contractor must first complete projects at 729 State St. and 1110 Second Ave., which begins Monday.

“Next on the line is Francis,” said Land Bank Director David Hogenkamp. “We’re moving as fast as we can. We want to get rid of blight as fast as the neighbors do.”

Hogenkamp said a fuller picture will emerge on the remainder of the properties later this summer. By then, the city Codes Department will have examined each one and reported back on the conditions. 

“We are going through them in partnership with the city to identify which ones we can put in a demolition package and then we can move forward,” Hogenkamp said.

ONGOING EYESORES

Neighbors also wished the city would better maintain properties under their ownership.

City officials in April said there are no minimum maintenance standards for city-owned distressed properties, and they try to manage the structures as best as possible with limited resources.

Hatideen said she wants to purchase both lots once the structures are demolished. 

But Narain feared what would happen if she did not. 

City Councilman Vince Riggi said understands the city can be short-staffed, but said he was surprised the city hasn’t sent snap crews to keep the properties presentable, especially following media coverage earlier this spring highlighting the problems.

“It’s incumbent on the city to care for the blight on the property until the demolition takes place,” Riggi said.

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