SPRINGFIELD TWP.: People living in the Sawyerwood neighborhood of Springfield, some whose family ties to the historic area go back generations, watched as demolition unfolded Wednesday on five homes township officials deemed nuisance properties.
Some said they hoped that tearing down the homes, clustered on tiny parcels of land, would stop the illegal activities they say vagrants, teens and methamphetamine makers perpetrate each night in the abandoned structures.
“It’s a long time coming,” said Jerry Miller, 37, a lifelong Sawyerwood resident who lives near three of the Mohawk Trail properties demolished Wednesday. He watched a crew from Butcher & Son Excavating knock down a home next door to a property his deceased uncle formerly owned. His uncle’s home was next on the demolition schedule.
“I’m amazed they had anything to throw away,” Miller said as the crew cleaned up after the first house was pulled down.
Thieves already had cleared out all plumbing fixtures, siding and anything else of value. Nothing was safe from the nightly foragers and scrappers, he said.
Sawyerwood, a neighborhood of trails within walking distance of Springfield Lake, was developed as a resort area during the rapid growth of the rubber industry in Akron in the early 1900s. Many of the summer cottages built by Akron’s well-to-do became year-round residences for later generations.
Today, many of the homes are in disrepair and on the demolition list. Banks own many of the properties, said township Zoning Administrator Patricia Ryan. She cited one case in which a bank came in and proposed working with the zoning department to bring the property up to code.
“We had one that was going to cost an estimated $51,000 to repair. After it was finished, it would have only been valued at $48,000,” Ryan said.
The bank abandoned its plans for the home, she said.
Some of the foreclosed bank-owned properties are still up for sale. Some are listed on an auction website by the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), she said.
“There are demo orders on some of these homes, and Fannie Mae has them on auction. People are buying them site unseen without doing due diligence,” Ryan said.
Communities in southern Summit County, hard hit with a rash of vacant, blighted homes, are getting rid of them in part with Moving Ohio Forward grant money. In most cases, the communities provide partial matching funds to be eligible for the grants.
Seed money for the program came from a $25 billion state-federal settlement agreement with the nation’s five largest mortgage providers over foreclosure abuses, fraud and unacceptable mortgage practices nationwide.
Ohio’s estimated share of the settlement is $330 million to be distributed across its 88 counties. Summit County is responsible for divvying up $3.8 million from the Moving Ohio Forward demolition program to help its communities deal with abandoned, vacated and blighted properties.
Springfield, which demolished two homes deemed uninhabitable last month, has identified as many as 30 properties it hopes to dismantle — and needs to tear down more, Ryan said.
The township has more than $380,000 to spend.
By some estimates, there are about 220 homes in the township that are empty or need repairs. Not all of those properties are candidates for demolition, Springfield Trustee Dean Young said.
“You have three categories for these homes. First, they must be a nuisance, blighted or uninhabitable. Then you have the ones that are tax delinquent. The third category is those that are vacant or abandoned. When those three categories intersect, you have a match for tearing them down,” Young said.
Summit County has identified more than 4,600 vacant and abandoned properties in its borders, with Springfield third, behind Akron and Barberton with about 3,000 and 600 blighted homes, respectively.
Local authorities said one of the biggest obstacles in using the funding is obtaining approval from owners to demolish the buildings. In many cases, out-of-state banks own the parcels and do not respond to repeated requests to clean up the property, New Franklin Zoning Inspector Barry Ganoe said. In those cases, the community must declare the properties nuisances before they can level them.
“Banks don’t want to tear a house down because they have equity in it. They want to milk out every dime they can,” Ganoe said.
Taxpayers are on the hook for other fees a community must absorb from vacant properties, such as keeping the grass mowed and hauling away trash disgruntled tenants leave behind, officials said.
Springfield is taking care of 34 properties to a tune of $200 each because owners, in many cases banks, refuse to perform routine maintenance.
Lakemore spends $322 each month to mow five properties, according to Fiscal Administrator Tracy Fast. New Franklin taxpayers spend about $2,000 a month from May through September to mow an average of 25 abandoned properties.
Green is mowing about 16 properties this season, spending approximately $1,100.
Coventry Township estimated it is mowing 26 lawns this year at a cost already reaching $1,800.
“We are going to exceed [all previous years] this year and we are starting a second round soon,” Zoning Inspector George Beckham said.
The expenditures are attached to the property tax bill as a lien, and it might take years for the communities to be reimbursed, Ganoe said.
Christina Miller, who lives a few doors north of her cousin Jeffrey’s home on Mohawk Trail, said some neighborhood residents are suspicious about officials’ reasons for tearing down the abandoned, boarded-up homes.
“Some people think they are trying to do away with Sawyerwood. I think its awesome. People come into these houses doing all kinds of things. It’s disgusting,” she said.
Young, a township trustee, stood in the heat and dust Wednesday, watching as the walls of the ramshackle houses came down.
“If you go through this neighborhood, you will find a lot of people who take pride in their properties. We are doing this for them,” he said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.