By Will McClure
Stamford residents may have noticed a red X on certain dilapidated and abandoned properties all over the city recently. The reason for this is that these properties have officially been marked for demolition as part of the "Reclaiming Stamford" project that will see the lots cleaned and maintained by the city until a new owner takes possession.
Started in 2005, the Reclaiming Stamford project has been operating off and on throughout the last several years with attempts at looking at those properties that were deemed unsalvageable and, thus, needed to be demolished. A lack of available personnel and equipment prevented any efforts from moving forward until recently when the project started moving again at a sustainable rate. At the head of the project is James Decker, who was able to provide some insight on how properties are chosen for the project, the process of being able to mark the properties for demolition and the ultimate goals of the project.
Decker said that the properties that are looked at for Reclaiming Stamford are ones that are a nuisance to the town which are unable to be restored and resold. He noted that these properties may be home to drug users and squatters that would also impede any kind of restoration effort. Ultimately, once the properties are removed, however, it would be the first step in removing these issues. Decker said that while it may be easy to identify these properties, it does take a longer process to mark them for demolition.
“Sometimes it is the property owner themselves that asks us to tear it down,” Decker said. “They then sign a release that authorizes us to mark it. However, a vast majority of the properties are foreclosed or taxes are delinquent. These properties actually take a lot longer before they can be marked.” Decker went on to say that properties that have been foreclosed upon go through what is called a “redemption period” that lasts either 6 months for a property that does not have a home to one year for homestead properties. During that time, properties cannot be torn down by the city as the owner has the opportunity to pay the back taxes and prevent demolition. Decker said that it is a long process waiting for these properties to pass the redemption period, but once the period has passed and the city is granted full approval, the process can then move forward.
Decker did note that when inspecting these properties, they do look to see if it does potentially have resale value after possible renovations. If so, then they move on to the ones that have no business being lived in and has no potential for saving. Decker said that while some others may see the property as saving, if a majority of others want to see it gone, then the property is marked. This process, as Decker states, is the reason why the project got its name as it allows them to reclaim the pride for the community and allows residents to be proud of the city that they live in. Part of this reclamation process is once the property is torn down, the city will go back and get the property to the point where it can be kept clean through normal upkeep. Once it is clean, then the city is more than happy to sell it to an interested party. Properties that have been chosen and have been through the proper channels are marked with a red X to note that the house is ready to be demolished once the equipment and manpower become available. Decker said that, as of this writing, there are at least a dozen properties marked, with another solid 40 that have the potential to be identified within the next year. Decker said that the process has been smooth thanks to the enthusiasm shown by Stamford residents as well as the generous donations to help with the project.
“I have had people come up to me and say that they were excited to see these houses being torn down,” Decker said. “I’ve had others ask us to check on certain properties, where we found out about some we were looking at, but also other properties we did not even know about. The support has been amazing.” Decker went on to note that the project has been financed by a group of private businesses as well as donations from the EDC and the City of Stamford; however, donations from residents have also helped move the process forward. Decker said that they are very appreciative of every donation that they receive and that no donation is too small as it shows that the citizens of Stamford want to see that change, even if it is only being able to help financially.
Decker concluded by saying that the project is just getting started with these properties and there are more properties being looked at in the future. He noted that their project cannot fix everything at once and that it is a long-term project with welcome results. He noted that while it may take a while to move the process along, it has only just begun as the community looks to reclaim Stamford.