Northland News

Forest Park house is still an eyesore

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Roger Deerhake has grown almost philosophical about the burned-out husk that sits across the street from his Forest Park home.

After all, it's been like that since the first fire more or less destroyed the abandoned house at 1299 Boxwood Drive on the morning of Dec. 11. The destruction job was pretty much completed two days later when his wife, Georgia, spotted flames coming out of the windows at 3:30 a.m.

"It doesn't bother me all that much," Deerhake, 77, said last week. "It seems like it bothers other people more, like my wife. It's just one of those things you can't do much about."

Mike Stone, president of the Forest Park Civic Association, is far less accepting of the longstanding presence of such a badly damaged structure on a highly visible corner in the neighborhood.

"We are not a community that has burned-out homes, and we're not going to be one any time soon," Stone said last week.

Actually, it's going to be one for a while longer.

"It's on the city's vacant and abandoned properties list, one where we are seeking authority from the Environmental Court to be demolished," Assistant City Attorney Jaiza Page said.

The complaint will be filed soon, she added, but a favorable court ruling won't happen overnight, and even then, it will take time to legally communicate with the owners of record.

The Franklin County Auditor's Office website lists the owners as Bobby C. Saunders and Wanda Lee. Their tax bill on the property, currently valued at $117,000 although last sold in 2006 for $155,600, is mailed to Select Portfolio Services Inc. of Pasadena, Calif.

To date, according to Page, city officials have had no communication with and received no cooperation from the owners.

"Sometimes when they receive certified mail, they don't claim it or they refuse it," Page said of out-of-state property owners. "It's our ultimate goal to get that house torn down."

Deerhake estimated that 1299 Boxwood Drive had not been lived in for four or five years prior to the fire. He said there is a fire-damaged old Cadillac in what's left of the garage.

As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Stone said civic association officials grew increasingly frustrated with the seeming lack of activity in addressing the eyesore.

"We're always concerned about property values," Stone said. "This was an obvious thing that we had to address. I think it was most important in the city understanding our urgency in getting this matter resolved.

"I perfectly understand that there are procedures and protocols that have to take place and they are some very well-meaning people in the city whose hands are tied. I get that.

"As time went on, we continued to hear about lack of progress," he said. "Neighbors became increasingly concerned. The whole matter really escalated when the grass became excessively high. We're talking way beyond the 12-inch minimum code violation."

Finally in May, Stone sent an email to the 600 people on the civic association's listserv, asking them to complain about the tall grass and the damaged home.

"We felt if we could demonstrate some solidarity on our concern, it would increase the pressure," he said.

The grass was mowed, but what's left standing of the house still stands.

"Obviously, I'll never know the exact number who responded, but it was very clear that just having a large number concentrating on one property accelerated things in a way that the previous six months did not," Stone said.

"It's our hope that we, as a community, can learn from this, that when there are code-related problems, things that cannot be resolved by talking to your neighbors and working with your neighbors ... when there's a unified quantity of people, the city will notice much quicker than one person filling out a 311 form themselves.

"Clearly, it's an eyesore and it's something that needs to be resolved," Stone said. "We're willing to be patient with the understanding that the city will press this as one of its higher priorities, and right now, I get the impression that seems to be the case.

"Is it resolved to our satisfaction? Absolutely not. But we hope when it comes to burned-out homes in central Ohio, this is the No. 1 priority."

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