Frankford revisits dilapidated houses

Frankford Town Council members revisited the issue of dilapidated houses at the July 11 council meeting, as Fire Hazard Inspection Committee Member Elma Gray reported the preliminary list of problem buildings had been compiled.

She stopped short of delivering that list to council, but rather formally announced the committee would be doing so at next month’s meeting (Aug. 1).

Council Vice President and Committee Chair T. Maynard Esender gave a brief recap: The goal was to winnow the committee’s list down to the worst five “uninhabited, uninhabitable” buildings around town — “eyesores at least, at worst public hazards,” as Esender described them — and try to get them demolished.

According to Town Manager Terry Truitt, one resident had already initiated plans to demolish two such houses (because it was time, and with added encouragement from bills generated by serviceable water meters at both locations).

However, Reed Street resident Jerry Smith noted other properties around town that needed addressing, and Gray nodded agreement.

Council Member Greg Johnson reminded all present of the requirements in the ordinance: the properties had to be “a serious hazard to life and property, and a common and public nuisance.”

“Just because you wouldn’t want to live in it doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t,” Johnson pointed out.

While council could easily make a decision on certain properties (gutted, open to the elements and curious children), other vacant structures might require greater discretion — they can be ugly, as long as they’re properly boarded up.

Esender noted the most basic directives referenced in the introduction to the zoning code — maintenance of the town’s integrity and property values — and suggested demolition of the dilapidated buildings would increase the value of the underlying lands.

There would be several civil safeguards along the way (certified letter of notice, public hearing and opportunity for the property owner to step in with corrective measures). Further, the property owner would have opportunities to appeal council’s decision to demolish (in the courts).

Upon ultimate resolution, Esender said the town would probably seek to recover cleanup costs through a lien placed on the property.

In other business, Tidewater’s Clarence Quillen (on retainer with the town as it slowly transitions from old to new water plant) reported that someone had run their car into a fire hydrant on Reed Street. Other than an added layer of paint, there’d been no damage done, he said.

Quillen said the Department of Public Health (DPH) would be running an inspection at the new water plant in coming days (scheduled for July 14).

“We’re that close to having a new water plant,” Esender advised audience members, holding up two fingers about an inch apart, “But it might as well be three miles.”

“And the old plant is ‘that close’ to shutting down,” Quillen added.

There are still problems with the new plant, both relatively minor (pumping capacity to fill the water tower) and more serious (the manner in which the plant would effect county sewer, which came as a surprise to the county).

Meanwhile, at the old water plant, Quillen reported that patches over old leaks were springing new leaks, and there were drips elsewhere. He recommended council purchase enough steel pipe for more extensive repairs, and council approved that roughly $3,000 expenditure unanimously. (Council President Robert Daisey was absent.)

Quillen said he planned to tackle that work in two phases, but if decreasing pressure in the one section caused a blowout in the other… He didn’t anticipate problems, but if that happened, he wanted materials on hand to move right into the second phase.

Esender gave an update on progress at the pending McNeill Street project (a Reed Street spur that has never been paved). The area lying well within municipal limits, the developer with plans for that location had reasonably anticipated certain town amenities (water, sewer and pavement), Esender pointed out.

He said the town had placed that project “on the front burner.” Simpler Surveying had completed field work, and he expected the installation of water mains within the next week (with sewer already in place), followed by paving.

Jim Reardon of maintenance reported the installation of a new charcoal grill at Town Park and the placement of a memorial plaque in the flowerbed surrounding the flagpole.

Reardon said it had been a quiet month for code-enforcement calls, although he had received a few calls regarding swimming pools and safety.

Suspecting some pools were noncompliant with safety regulations, he said he planned to call the county for more details and maybe send out a checklist with the next batch of water bills.

To protect children who might wander into a neighbor’s yard, pool access should be restricted by a 4-foot fence, Reardon pointed out, or above-ground pools should be at least 4 feet high.

Council Member Pam Davis announced a meeting date to discuss neighborhood watch possibilities: Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m., at Frankford Fire Hall. Master Cpl. Dennis Lineweaver of the Delaware State Police (Troop 4) planned to attend, she said.

Esender suggested it might be appropriate to request a little police presence on Aug. 13, as well, as dramatically increased traffic would likely accompany a benefit planned for the family of local firefighter Bill Banks.

Banks passed away recently after a brief illness. As Esender noted, he’d been a long-time resident and well-liked, and the event could certainly be expected to draw a crowd.