PHILADELPHIA — A vacant, burned-out house along U.S. 40 might finally be demolished after years of fruitless discussion that helped define an election campaign and underscored the difficulty in addressing blight in the county.
The house, at 2372 W. U.S. 40, was destroyed by fire 11 years ago, and it’s been a paperwork hassle ever since, local officials say.
This week, Gary and Cindy Sword, who acquired the property in 2007 through a quit-claim deed by paying back taxes on the property, came before county commissioners saying they’d like to finally see it come down.
Gary Sword said there’s a mortgage lien of more than $71,000 on the structure from the previous owners, and he’s been leery to demolish it for fear of being held responsible for the loan.
“It’s always been my intention to tear it down,” Sword said.
Sword owns property adjacent to the structure, now overgrown by trees and brush. He’d like to have the site cleaned up and perhaps put a new structure on the lot. He says because it’s been 11 years since the fire and typically liens expire after 10 years, perhaps he won’t be responsible for the mortgage from the previous owners.
Sword was asking commissioners for direction or whether the county could do something with the lien. County attorney Ray Richardson said the county doesn’t have authority to clear the lien.
The county’s building department has been trying to contact the bank that holds the lien, but Sword said the mortgage has been passed through several banks in the past decade, and they’re not getting any response on whether the lien can be released.
Commissioner Brad Armstrong hopes the building can be demolished soon.
The house has been on his radar since he first ran for office six years ago; blight on U.S. 40 was one of his campaign issues at the time.
“You wouldn’t think it would be that complicated; I was shocked at how complicated it got,” Armstrong said.
While the Swords hope to demolish the structure soon, Armstrong said a number of other blighted properties need to be addressed as well. He’s working with new building inspector Scott Williams on a plan to address blighted structures starting this winter.
“The more good assessed value we can put on those roads, the better off we are both as a community and dollars-and-cents wise,” Armstrong said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to accomplish, but it’s been agonizingly slow. It would be a huge, huge victory to have that property (in Philadelphia) torn down.”
Sword said it’s frustrating that both he and county officials want to see the building demolished, but they don’t want to be hit with a bill from the lender.
“I’m up against a wall here, and I’m going to have to get some legal advice,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet.”