Ford Cliff in Property Dispute with Local Homeowner

The property at 604 Orr Avenue in Ford Cliff has been demolished down to the first floor. The property owner, Sue Colton, told Council last night demolition is halted because of administrative regulations by the Department of Environmental Protection agency. Council voted to bring in its own contractor and demolish the property anyway and give the bill to Colton.

by David Croyle

Ford Cliff Council is in a dispute over a property located just a few doors down from the borough’s office.

The property containing a 100-year-old house is owned by Sue Colton from Ford City. The home belonged to the Campbell family, which was her grandparents’ homestead. When her grandfather died, Colton’s mother inherited the property. Her mother then sold it to Colton several years ago.

Although no one had lived in the house since 1984, Colton fondly remembered walking from the home to the Ford Cliff Elementary School located just a few doors down the street where the Borough playground is now situated. However, time took its toll on the structure and Colton decided to abandon her nostalgic dream of restoring the home.

Orr Avenue Property Owner Sue Colton reads a prepared statement to Ford Cliff Council citing the difficulty she has had in her attempts to demolish a two-story, 100-year-old house.

On October 12, 2012, Colton received a permit to demolish the house. Although the permit was valid for five years, council members deemed the house a potential hazard to children in the community and wanted her to immediately tear it down.

Colton, without the use of a contractor, began demolition on the house. She said she continuously ran into issues with the Borough giving her inaccurate information or denying her requests for information.

Colton to date has removed the roof and the second story, leaving the first floor still standing.

At the December 2012 Public Meeting, Council approved Colton’s request to have the local fire departments supervise a controlled burn of the remainder of the house. The next day, it reversed its decision but failed to give adequate reason other than it is “illegal.”

Following a discussion at the January 2013 Public Meeting, Council sent Colton a letter, which stated in part:

“The Ford Cliff boroughs decision to deny your burn permit request is due to DEP regulations. The DEP rules and regulations are public knowledge and your attorney should be able to obtain this information easily. The borough council has also come to an agreement that further steps need to and are being taken to get the structure at 604 Orr Avenue down as soon as possible; as it is an unsafe structure a nuisance and it poses danger to children in the community.” [sic]

The letter also contained a citation for $50, the threat of additional fines, and a time limit of until today (February 8) for the demolition to be completed.

Ford Cliff Mayor Lori Kijowski rebukes property owner Sue Colton for not complying with borough ordinances. Meanwhile, the Borough has refused to provide the documentation to both Colton and the Kittanning Paper.

Mayor Lori Kijowski sternly scolded Colton during the meeting.

“We have codes and ordinances that Ford Cliff Borough has to follow, one being it’s unsafe! You know that, I know that, and this whole council knows that. There is an ordinance right here, 33.04, dated 2004. It’s unsafe as it is now Sue,” the mayor said. “We have worked with you and work with you and worked with you!” Colton replied “And you have misguided me!”

Although the mayor referred to the ordinance, Council has refused to grant a copy of the ordinance to be released. A request for a copy of the ordinance governing tearing down a building was denied by Ford Cliff Borough to the Kittanning Paper on January 8, 2013. Attempts to contact the Borough Solicitor by the Kittanning Paper have been unsuccessful during the past month.

Meanwhile, Colton did contact Brian Shimmel at the Department of Environmental Resources. She maintains that she cannot continue demolition now without proper paperwork submitted to DEP.

“Once DEP approves their portion of the demolition process, then you can request a demolition permit from CodeSys. I did not go through DEP first because I was told to go through CodeSys,” Colton told Council last night.

Colton maintains that the inept manner of handling requests for information has caused her difficulty in personally handling the demolition. Council maintains that she should have used a contractor and the work would have been completed. Colton said that she did not have the ability to hire a contractor.

“Money is a big issue. I work three jobs to try to make my bills meet. I had to have surgery the year before and I am still trying to work through that recovery. The money is an issue. I got my own bills to pay,” she said.

Although Council told her last night it will be contacting Mr. Shimmel at DEP to substantiate her story, they still voted to hire a contractor to demolish the remainder of the house and give her the bill. If she does not pay the bill, the Borough will place a lien on her property.

Colton said following the meeting that she intends to pursue legal options.

“I will most likely file for an injunction, because I have the right to talk to Brian (DEP) also. He is the one that led me to the environmental agency that told me regardless if I burn or have this torn down, I have to have this report done,” she said.

Brian Shimmel was not available for comment before publication today.

Council members immediately moved to a closed-door office area following the meeting and were not available for additional comment. Council also refused to read financial reports at last night’s public meeting, although they voted to approve them. They also refused access by the Kittanning Paper to reports without this paper requesting them through “Right-to-Know” procedures.