Abandoned Lot Irks Couple

WHEELING – At 80 years of age, Nancy Anthony does not relish the idea of cutting the grass at the abandoned lot next door to her home on McColloch Street in East Wheeling.

Nor does she think it is fair for the taxpayers of Wheeling to continually foot the bill when city workers eradicate the weeds each summer. However, that’s been the case on and off for the past decade.

“The empty lot has really been a headache for 10 years,” Anthony said. “We cut it for a while just to keep the weeds from our property, and now the city comes out and cuts it down twice a year.”

Anthony said at one point there was a mobile home on the lot, however it became so run down, the city used federal Community Development Block Grant funds to have it removed, leaving a vacant lot and sandstone wall.

“The lot was fairly decent for a while and we tried to buy it for a fair-price, but they wanted too much money for it,” Anthony commented.

“We have put a lot of money into our home but this is just a mess next to us. The wall over there has crumbled.”

Anthony’s house is a three-story blue Victorian with teal blue and burgundy trim, a home she and her husband, Louis, proudly maintain. That includes a covered patio in the rear and a small yard.

In addition to the weeds and tall grass, Anthony said she fears someone could be harmed by the sandstone wall that has disintegrated in places, leaving boulders strewn about.

County tax records indicate the property is owned by a woman who no longer lives in the local area. The city eventually paid $10,000 in CDBG funds to have the trailer dismantled and removed from the property.

“When I called the city to complain that the boulders could damage my property, I was told there was nothing they could do unless my property is actually damaged,” Anthony said.

She said when the city does respond, it takes a crew of about six workers to cut the grass and weeds. Anthony believes the property owner should be billed for the work or a lien placed on the property to recover the costs.

“What if I decided I can’t cut my grass anymore. Will the city come and cut it? The police were out here in the area yesterday and noticed the lot. One of the officers said the condition of the lot goes against city ordinance. If he can see that then why can’t something be done?” Anthony said.

City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth said the McColloch Street property is one of many the city is dealing with because of absentee owners or owners who simply cannot afford to maintain their properties. It is a cyclical problem that arises every spring and summer.

“It is one of literally hundreds of properties we are dealing with. If the city did a demolition or cut the weeds, we have a lien on the property to get that money back. But it’s like getting blood out of a turnip,” Humway-Warmuth said. “If someone wants to buy the property and will maintain it, we really do try to negotiate a fair price.”

She also noted that sometimes such properties are sold by the state for back taxes at which time the city hopes to recoup expenses it has incurred from demolition or cutting weeds.

Anthony said her home has been in her family for three generations and she and her husband moved there in the 1990s after raising their family in the Woodsdale area.

“People told us we were crazy to move out here but we have had no problems except this lot next door. We love it here,” she added.

Attempts to reach the property owner, listed on county tax records as Carolyn Dowell, were unsuccessful.