By Carrie Napoleon
April 23, 2014 10:14PM
Commissioner Michael Repay, D-3rd, surveys an abandoned building recently in Calumet Township. | Carrie Napoleon~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 24, 2014 2:06AM
Efforts to demolish unsafe properties throughout unincorporated Lake County are ramping up in 2014.
More than 20 homes and buildings that have been deemed unsafe have been identified and the list continues to grow. Work is underway to bring as many as possible through the process that would allow officials to tear them down.
Commissioner Michael Repay, D-Hammond, has been driving the effort to raze as many structures as possible as swiftly as possible. Those that pose the greatest safety risk to the community are being processed first.
Many of the structures including homes, a couple former businesses and even an old school building were initially damaged by fire and never cleaned up. Others have just been left to atrophy for so long they are no longer inhabitable. Repay said the buildings are considered unsafe because anyone can enter them and possibly get hurt or conduct criminal activity. They also become dumping sites for garbage and debris.
Repeated attempts have been made to contact owners and work with them to clean up the properties, tear down the structures or board them up and make them inaccessible to trespassers.
“One of the reasons we put it on the list is to force them into some sort of action. The structures truly are unsafe,” Repay said on a recent tour of some of the targeted buildings in his district.
When attempts to contact the owners fail the unsafe building committee steps in to begin a process of notification, public hearings and title search work that is necessary before any demolition can begin.
Officials also have the option of declaring an emergency situation on a property because of the extreme safety risk it poses to the community. That enables the county to work faster to tear a building down.
Repay said as a Realtor he knows dealing with the properties is important for the surrounding residents and the neighborhood property values. He said when he drives through a neighborhood and sees a for-sale sign at a home and then passes a dilapidated home next door or down the block he knows what that means to the homeowner’s chance of selling.
“There is no way this would be acceptable in some cities,” he said. The same can be true for the county. “We are trying to take a more proactive approach.”
Repay and the commissioners have been working with the planning and building department and the Lake County Unsafe Housing Task Force to identify the buildings. Ned Kovachevich, department director, said two Calumet Township homes have been torn down so far, at 4707 Pierce and 4420 W. 47th Ave. A third, at 4740 Ralston Place, is slated for demolition as soon as the paperwork clears.
Kovachevich said he filed for title work on another five properties on the list and added a new one on the west side of Commissioner Gerry Schueb’s district near 165th Avenue to the list. That property joins another two homes on Lane Street in Center Township that are already on the list.
“Hopefully, by the time June comes around we will have another five ready for demolition,” Kovachevich said.
Funding for the demolitions is coming from two sources, Lake County Community Economic Development and the Unsafe Building Fund. LCCED sets aside $25,000 a year in Community Development Block Grant funds specifically for demolition of homes, according to department director Milan Grozdanich.
Grozdanich said the agency is also working with commissioners to find unused funds from other projects that could be used to take care of the homes. Commissioners must find other revenues from their budgets to deal with the commercial properties.
Officials are hopeful with some of the properties, including a partially constructed dollar-type discount store building, once notifications are made that the demolition process is beginning those owners will step up and take care of their properties.
“It is in everybody’s best interest if the owners come forward,” Repay said.