Monday, May 22, 2017

The least of all evils - The backstory of the borough's blighted property

208-210 Locust Street

It was considered the best of a pile of bad options: Columbia Borough's recent acquisition of a blighted property on Locust Street.

208-210 Locust Street, formerly owned by Samuel L. and Cynthia L. Bigler, was conveyed to the borough for $51,911.17 - the amount of the borough’s lien. The acquisition was subject to the Biglers paying off the mortgage and any non-borough liens.

The property has long been a thorn in the town's side due to its slow and continual decline. The situation was exacerbated when it was thought to be in imminent danger of collapse in June 2015. The incident prompted responses from emergency personnel and building engineers. The structure was subsequently reinforced and its facade wrapped in Tyvek.

The possibility of the borough acquiring the property was previously discussed at the April 10, 2017 council meeting, in which council weighed its options but found no easy answers.

Steven Kaufhold, the borough's manager of code enforcement, initially questioned the wisdom of an acquisition: "I don't see how this would benefit the community whatsoever," Kaufhold said. "We would end up basically eating a $51,000 debt, and now we would have a building that is also in terrible disrepair that at any given time we could have to stick more money into just making this a safe building." Kaufhold said the building is already in the blighted program and advised allowing the process to take its course in that direction.

Borough Manager Greg Sahd responded: "It still could take its course in that direction. It's teed up for the Land Bank." Sahd quoted from a summary of conditions that triggered a blighted condition for this property: It's been vacant for five years; it's condemned; and the utilities are disconnected. The Lancaster County Vacant Property Reinvestment Board determined the property to be blighted on March 17, 2016. The Lancaster County Planning Commission and the Columbia Borough Planning Commission certified blight in 2016. The Reinvestment Board referred the property to the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority for acquisition on July 26, 2016. "Doing nothing increases the possibility - the potentiality - of it costing us more in the long run," Sahd said.

Kaufhold reiterated the risks of an acquisition:"If the borough acquires this, it is now our problem solely. We've now relinquished all our leverage whatsoever." He said there may be different avenues available. "I don't feel the Land Bank is going to be an outlet for this property. This will be expensive enough that the land bank may not give the buying price for this."

Council President Kelly Murphy expressed frustration with how the Biglers have handled the matter. He cited their lack of response for updates, as well as continual requests for time extensions."This has been going on in excess of two years with little to no action being done," Murphy said. "To me, this is a damned if you do/damned if you don't situation." 

Murphy acknowledged Kaufhold's advice to let the process run its course but asked where the issue is in the process. There's "no way in hell anything should take this long to get done," Murphy said.

Mayor Leo Lutz agreed on the need to take action."It's like a black eye in your downtown . . . or like a missing tooth," he said of the property. "I think it's time to do something about it."

Kaufhold asked about the intended use of the building once it's acquired, but council did not appear to have a clear-cut answer.


In April 2017, 208-210 Locust Street was listed at realtor.com for $49,900, down from previous asking prices.

17 comments:

  1. Bigler is laughing the whole way to the BANK!!

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  2. Biglers are probably laughing at the borough now. They held off long enough to get out of their mess. The borough ought to tell the Bigler's that any property they own will be closely inspected and any violation better be repaired if found. Biglers won out with the stables off 4th Street and now Locust St.
    The borough wants everyone to keep their properties.well maintained,the same should be applied to the Bigler's. Only problem,Biglers gets away with not doing anything.
    Again, the failure to act quickly and now, cost the taxpayers money.

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  3. I wonder if the Biglers were able to collect any insurance money from the Locust Street property. They admittedly did collect insurance money on the Avenue G property. Keep in mind now too that the taxpayers footed the entire bill for the flagger force and engineers that were summoned to the scene back in June 2015.

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  4. What does Bigler's have on borough officials? It seems like codes do not apply to them. Since he got this money, maybe they can concentrate on the eyesore at 3rd and Union,(old garment factory,) That also goes for the parking lot have way up Union St. Oh, he is Bigler, codes do not apply to his properties.

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  5. Just noticed in today's LNP that a zoning request is for 304 Union St. Person wants an exception to operate a general home occupation. Property owned by Bigler.

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  6. Why would the council pay the Biglers for that building when they owed all that money on the building why didn't they just take it from them just had to spend more of the tax payers money

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  7. Perfect question I want to know as well?

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  8. Will the borough forgive all the people that have municipal liens on their properties and buy them out? By purchasing the Locust St. eyesore, they may have set a precedent. If they would have grabbed the bull by the horns 2 years ago, this useless waste of taxpayers money may not have happened. If I remember, one of the reason for saving the building was because it was in the historic district.Now,the building is probably too far gone.

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  9. Now that the borough owns this eyesore, lets get something done right now! Don't let this look like this for months! I want to see action with my hard earned TAXES!!

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    1. Agree. In many towns,the wrecking ball would be on site leveling the building.

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  10. Just read on Lancaster Online how the borough of Lititz is working with the developers of the old Wilbur Chocolate factory and the visions that both parties have. Maybe Columbia can get pointers from them on how to work with developers. Wilbur Chocolate has vacated the building a year ago and plans are in the works. Hotel Locust is still sitting and people are wondering if there is any movement on the building. Granted, you can not force someone to buy it,but maybe some communication between the two towns and the developers could happen and spark interest.

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  11. what a joke. the hammer should have come down on sam bigler 10 or 15 years ago. he should have NEVER gotten away with all that he did.

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  12. Same old song and dance in this Boro.
    Get the wrecking ball in, pay the piper and give the land to Perfect Settings!

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    1. Excuse me? I don't pay taxes for our Borough to donate tax bases to businesses. They can buy it if they want it.

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  13. I agree, give it to Perfect Settings, charge them One Dollar!

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  14. yes, excuse me also! buy it.

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