County, local officials set sights on blight in Greensburg, Latrobe and Monessen
Of the more than 15,000 properties across Greensburg, Latrobe and Monessen, 516 — nearly 3.5% — are blighted, an inventory conducted by county officials found.
The data is the result of a partnership between each city and Westmoreland County to provide a detailed look at individual properties within each planning jurisdiction.
“It is an issue that nearly every community is dealing with in some form or fashion,” said Daniel Carpenter, assistant deputy director for the county’s Department of Planning and Development. “This is an approach, it’s a way for us to assist our communities dealing with the issue. In many cases it’s bigger than their capacity to address it.”
Starting in Monessen in 2019, staff from the county’s Technical Resources and Municipal Services went street by street, rating a property’s condition as good, fair or poor.
A good property is typically new construction or properties with no visible signs of deterioration; fair properties have some cracked brick or wood, have crumbling concrete or needs to be painted; and a poor property has major cracks in bricks and rotting
wood, broken, missing or boarded up windows, and is a safety hazard.
Information was input into an online map created for each municipality.
“It really begins with taking a data-driven approach so that communities have the information at their fingertips,” Carpenter said. “They can stand on that, they can better understand the issue instead of just the anecdotal experiences of a few residents. … It’s really kind of the reason behind doing these comprehensive blight inventories.”
In Greensburg, efforts to combat blight have been underway for years. City leaders in 2017 marked some of the worst properties with red “X” signs. The city in 2020 received a $10,000 grant from the Realtors Association of Westmoreland, Indiana and Mon Valley to partner with the county to create the comprehensive blight inventory.
For Greensburg Mayor Robert Bell, the inventory project could be a turning point, giving leaders a benchmark to track blight in the city.
According to the inventory, of Greensburg’s 6,070 properties, 76 are considered poor, 456 are fair and 5,538 are good. There are 127 vacant properties that can be developed.
“That’s pretty good,” Bell said of the numbers. “For the most part, everybody’s keeping up their property. Obviously there’s other parcels that are not in good shape for whatever reason. At least we know where they’re at now.”
Jeff Raykes, the city’s planning director, said the data will be used to make future decisions. City officials recently hired Pittsburgh-based Environmental Planning and Design to update the town’s comprehensive plan. The company will create a blight mitigation plan that can stand on its own if necessary.
“Planners often at the local level will come in, understand the issue, but not have the capacity to do what’s necessary to address it or to plan around it, and so I think the city is very appreciative of the county and being able to create the city-county Realtors association partnership,” Raykes said. “We’re excited about being able to address blight.”
In Latrobe, city leaders began discussing the blight inventory early this year. Work began
in August and included city and county staff and fire and police officials.
Of the city’s 3,911 properties, 57 are considered poor, a map shows.
According to Eric Bartels, deputy mayor, city leaders are hoping to work with stakeholders, including property owners, to help create solutions against blight.
“At this early stage, the overall goal is to not only identify all of the properties that currently qualify as blighted and thereby work with those property owners to work on an improvement plan, but perhaps more importantly, identify blight-risk properties and be more proactive about preventing them from falling into the category of blighted,” Bartels said.
Similar to Greensburg, Monessen for years has been working to combat blight throughout the city.
County officials in 2019 first began their blight inventory of the city’s 5,032 parcels. Of those, 383 were considered poor, 1,838 were fair and 2,811 were good.
“The data is what I expected — most of our blighted and vacant properties are in one area,” Mayor Matthew Shorraw said. “We’re using the data to target blighted parcels in order to get them back on the tax rolls through our tax forgiveness program for vacant properties or in order to determine which properties need to be demolished or redeveloped.”
According to Victoria Baur, county planning coordinator, the blight inventory project was piloted in Monessen. Baur said city leaders asked the county to provide them with an inventory as part of their comprehensive planning process.
For Carpenter, results from the inventory did not come as a surprise.
“Other communities could be better, other communities could be far worse,” he said. “So I don’t know that it’s necessarily a surprise. It’s just a more fuller understanding.”
Carpenter noted that any other municipalities interested in recording blight are welcome to reach out to start the process.
“If they’re looking to fully understand blight and they’re interested in trying to do something about it, obviously we’d be happy to work with anybody and everybody that wants to tackle the issue,” Carpenter said.