OLEAN — The groans of an excavator, the tearing of wood and the smashing of glass filled the air Thursday morning as another condemned city-owned property was razed to its foundation.
Workers with contractor EVL Operations, working for Rural Revitalization Corp., leveld the two-story home at 1210 Reed St., clearing the way for a community garden in the neighborhood.
Common Council approved the sale of two properties to Rural Revitalization Corp. for $1 each in May — 1210 Reed St. for demolition and 306 N. 11th St. for rehabilitation and sale.
“This is going to be a gamechanger for this neighborhood,” said Council President John Crawford, I-Ward 5, who represents the area.
The ward contains about half of the 13 properties acquired by the city in 2016 from Cattaraugus County — properties that were seized for back taxes but deemed unlikely to sell at auction due to poor condition and the high cost of renovation or demolition.
It took about 19 months before the first sales were completed to third parties for demolition or rehabilitation — most for a dollar to neighbors, who will demolish the properties themselves — but now only three of the properties remain under the city’s umbrella with standing structures.
“It took a little longer than I hoped, but Rural Revitalization and the city were able to work together,” Crawford said.
The property was condemned in May 2014, said Stephanie Timblin, head of Rural Revitalization, officially sitting vacant for more than four years.
Unofficially, however, “there was evidence someone was harboring in here,” Timblin said, noting that blankets and other items were found in a rear room, while a self-defense shooting target of a shotgun-wielding man wearing a ski mask and a package of birth control pills were found on the enclosed porch.
Now, Timblin and Crawford said they have their eyes on another eyesore in the neighborhood.
“I’m not going to be happy until the neighboring property, which is also condemned, comes down,” he added.
The building at 1208 Reed St. is also condemned following a house fire, sitting vacant since 2016.
Down the line, Crawford said he hopes to prevent properties ending the same way with the 2017 city property inspection law and various homeownership assistance programs operated by the city.
“This is important if our revitalization efforts are going to work,” he said.
More immediately, Timblin said, the plan is to continue with efforts for a community garden at the Reed Street.
Community gardens were floated by members of the Citizens Action Network of Southwestern New York in the winter, said organizer Chris Stanley during the application period for the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The group specifically wanted a site in Franchot Park with a greenhouse and plots for community members to rent. Later, the group got in contact with Rural Revitalization Corp. through Crawford to set up the partnership.
The first was constructed over the summer in the yard of the former Epic Church at the corner of South Third and West Greene streets. Up to four gardens are planned for the city, spread out around the community. A greenhouse to start plants for the garden is being planned for the RRC headquarters on North Barry Street.
While the building was removed Thursday, the garden will need some work before it’s ready for a growing season.
“Optimally, we’ll do some fall prep before any significant snowfall,” she said, with work on the garden kicking into high gear in the spring.
Funds from the sale of 306 N. 11th St. once renovated — similar homes to the 4-bedroom, 2-bath home are listed around $80,000 in the neighborhood, Timblin said — should be enough to cover the renovations as well as establish the Reed Street garden. It’s likely a full-time position will be created to manage the greenhouse and gardens.
The rehabilitation is well underway on North 11th Street, Timblin said.
“We’ve got it about completely gutted,” Timblin said, with new water and sewer lines installed. The building is now jacked up off of its foundation for repair, and the winter will bring renovations to the interior, she added.
The grounds have been cleared of weeds and rubbish.
“It looks so nice,” she said, adding that the work was done not just to appeal to buyers, but also to improve the looks of the neighborhood for those living nearby.
(Contact reporter-editor Bob Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)