Even in prosperous Middleburg, a few decrepit homes are being torn down

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Even in prosperous Middleburg, a few decrepit homes are being torn down

June 23, 2014 [Grant Segall, The Plain Dealer]

Even in this thriving suburb, some abandoned homes are being torn down.

Three such homes have been razed so far this year, and City Council plans to vote Tuesday night, June 24, on a fourth. Officials say they may have seven or eight demolished, all told.

The Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp. is tearing down buildings for Middleburg, Berea and many other cities. In the past four years, the land bank has helped Berea, one of its first partners, deal with 13 structures so far, including vacant car dealerships in the North End. Middleburg signed up with the land bank last August.

Cheryl Stephens, the land bank’s director of acquisition, disposition and development, says, “If you’d told me I’d have three demolitions in Middleburg Heights this spring, I would have been surprised.” But it seems that there are problem homes almost everywhere.

Middleburg officials say they try hard to work with homeowners to fix homes rather than raze them. But some of the homes’ owners have died and left no heirs. And all the homes have decayed too much to be worth saving. They’ve been doomed by leaky roofs, rotten interiors, bugs, mold, rats and more. One foreclosed family reportedly left the water running in spite.

“These houses sit, and they’re not safe,” says Middleburg Service Director Jim Herron. He worries that “flippers” might scoop them up and fail to fix them up properly.

Ward 4 Councilman John Grech says, “This is going on throughout Cuyahoga County and throughout the country. People are just abandoning their properties. It’s a shame.”

Grech says a bulldozer is a last resort, but the city has to keep the neighborhood safe and desirable. Officials tried for a couple of years to save a home on toney Webster Road with piles of possessions several feet high. “There were all kinds of animals and mold,” says Grech. “It was just disgusting.”

Now council will vote Tuesday on whether to ask the land bank to demolish a house at 7125 Fry Road, north of Bagley Road. The front window gives a good view of a crumbling ceiling.

The demolition is good news to a next-door neighbor, Heidi Kisela, who drives a bus for the Berea school district. “If they can’t fix it, definitely tear it down.” She says local youths have broken into the vacant house and smoked what smells like marijuana there.

The land bank demolishes buildings at no cost to local governments. It spends about $18 million per year of money from the county and higher governments. It recovers what it can from property owners.

The price of demolition varies. It cost about $16,000 to empty and raze the home on Webster. Stephens says the land bank has to empty a home first, because household debris goes to different landfills than construction debris.

Officials in some old, dense suburbs don’t want to replace razed homes. Instead, they’re helping neighbors create community gardens or buy the empty lots to expand their yards. The goal is to reduce density and boost property values.

For now, the razed lots in relatively young, prosperous Middleburg still belong to private owners. The city plans to mow the grass as necessary and bill the owners. Herron said he’d like eventually to see new homes there but would be open to other possibilities.