Potsdam struggles to tackle zombie property problem

A burned-out building on Larnard Street in Potsdam has become a zombie property. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

POTSDAM — A struggling economy has been cited as the cause for the popping up of condemned or abandoned properties, called zombie properties, throughout the village.

Village Administrator Gregory O. Thompson said the village has been working with the owners of five zombie properties in the village, but money has become an issue.

The properties, located on Pleasant, Canal, Larnard and Walnut streets, range from partial burnouts to properties that owners just walked away from due to financial issues, leaving the village with what Mr. Thompson said was the question of how to get rid of them.

“The problem we’re up against is a lot of the places that are in that state, the owners of the properties are on a fixed income and they just don’t have the money to take care of the situation,” Mr. Thompson said. “Obviously, if they had the money they would have fixed them up long ago and stayed with them.”

The village has been working with the property owners through the village Planning and Development Office and have reached out to other outside agencies, but time, Mr. Thompson said, is not on their side.

“There are funds out there. ... That includes Community Development Block Grant funding, Mr. Thompson said. “The problem with that is we have to wait for the next round of grant applications, which would be July of next year, and then you wouldn’t get your award until December, so you’d actually be looking at a 2021 removal. ... We really don’t have that kind of time at all, around most of them.“

The time issue is that the properties are deteriorating rapidly. They have been left alone for so long — with no heat, no use and no upkeep — that the properties are starting to see roof collapses, broken windows, vermin occupying the spaces, the weather is getting inside, all of which is causing a rapid deterioration of the properties, Mr. Thompson said.

“Once the deterioration begins, you end up with what is called ‘an attractive nuisance,’ which means people see these properties and they start exploring,“ he said. “They start going towards them to see what they’re about and then you end up with people getting hurt and they become a safety risk and a health risk, so we’re trying to avoid that as much as possible.”

Moreover, by the time the five properties in question are taken care of, there are likely to be several more, Mr. Thompson said, pointing to a struggling socioeconomic state.

“It’s not going to be a battle that you win overnight; However, I feel by isolating the five that we feel are of the most need and getting those taken care of, then we’ll hopefully be able to control the pace that the others pop up,” he said.

There are options for the village. The village can tear them down, but then the municipality would have to hire someone who is licensed to remove it and discard it for asbestos which could cost upwards of $30,000, Mr. Thompson said.

“So it’s a tough battle. The socioeconomic situation throughout the north country hasn’t been real positive in a long time. ... And you are going to see more and more of these properties springing up,” Mr. Thompson said. “Our goal is to find some kind of money, state or federal, and get these buildings taken down, create safe vibrant neighborhoods throughout the Potsdam area again.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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