"A better leverage point to influence positive developments in the city" - that's how City Councilwoman Liz Miele described work by an ad hoc committee on demolition that she chairs.
Council, following an ordinance adopted in 2007, has limited ability to prevent demolitions. In some case, it has no ability whatsoever, Miele said.
"Our whole goal is to isolate a few options that council and the administration can work with to give the city more leverage ... regarding what is going to be torn down and which buildings are to remain," she said.
Workers from Steinbacher Enterprises Inc. demolish a home on Green Street in Williamsport near the YMCA project in August.
The committee came up with approaches, some of which it hopes the city can implement quickly.
It has suggested recommendations to the existing criteria it uses when reviewing demolition applications, Councilman Jonathan Williamson said.
The committee suggested giving codes personnel resources so buildings don't reach the point of having to be razed and ensuring enforcement of rules against those who don't maintain properties to the detriment of their neighbors, he said.
The committee also is interested in the best use of properties and in protecting a small group of the most historically significant buildings that nobody on council wants to see razed.
"These are options we believe will help the city prevent unwanted demolitions but not impede progress for properties that should be taken down," Miele said. "The goal is to bring ideas forth to encourage filling in vacant lots and find the best use for the limited land in the city. I don't know the outcome, but it's looking like a good proposal; it's a proposal to find a solution."
"With the way the ordinance is written, you can't deny demolitions without going to court," said Joe Gerardi, codes enforcement administrator. "But we can require demolitions fit in with neighborhoods. You can't deny demolitions ... but you can require demolition fits in with the neighborhood and is pleasant for the surroundings."
Several criteria exist in the demolition application process. Applicants must receive a permit issued and approved either by council or the Board of Health. The individual also must give his or her name, address, date of the property acquisition and reasons why the property should be torn down and not rehabilitated, reused or sold.
Whenever applicable, council's review includes asking what the future use of the property will be and getting details on the construction plan ahead of time.
Council also reviews health and safety issues and whether the area is compatible with the objectives in the city comprehensive plan.
"These recommended changes to the ordinance are made so when an application gets to council, it has a recommendation from the city planning commission or has added conditions required for the building to be demolished," Gerardi said.
Council might be able to review the final recommendations of the committee on Sept. 27, he said.