HAZLETON — Barry Postupack tried to buy the litter-strewn lot next to his Hazleton business for around $12,000 when Luzerne County government put it on the market in 2008, but he was told he’d have to offer at least $18,000, the appraised value then.
The lot, which has about $80,000 in county funds invested in it, was never sold.
As a toilet, broken glass, shopping cart and other debris piled up, Postupack said he continued to inquire with various county offices about buying the land but was never given an opportunity to negotiate. He gave up two years ago.
But the real slap in Postupack’s face was news that Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi asked the cash-strapped county to sell the lot at 56 N. Cedar St., last assessed at $15,500, to the city for $1.
“For almost six years, that lot could have been on the tax rolls and maintained. This is insane. If the city gets it, the lot will generate no tax revenue,” said Postupack, who still is interested in turning the 0.18-acre parcel into a regulated parking lot including some garages for enclosed storage.
Manuel Luna, who owns a Maple Street double-block home near the county lot, also said he wants to buy the parcel so he could remove the debris, pave it and set up a vehicle sales business there.
He often spots vehicles with out-of-state license plates parked there for extended periods. City officials say the lot has attracted abandoned vehicles, though none was parked there Wednesday.
“I would make it look nice. The way it is now, it looks like a ghetto,” said Luna, who was sweeping the sidewalk and alley by his property Wednesday. “I have children, and I worry about them playing near this lot.”
The city would use the lot for a “constructive” purpose, such as regulated parking, Yannuzzi told county Manager Robert Lawton in a letter.
A council majority agreed this week to negotiate a potential sale to the city, though several council members stressed they wouldn’t consider a sale unless the city offers more to recoup at least some of the county’s investment.
Past county officials bought the property for $30,000 in 1999 to provide parking for county offices located nearby at that time. There also was talk of rehabilitating the deteriorating and now-defunct Hazleton Paper Co. building on the lot, but county commissioners unanimously approved a $49,300 bid to demolish the structure in 2005.
Postupack said the county should halt negotiations with the city and do what county administrations have promised for years: establish a process allowing the public to acquire unused county property through competitive bids.
“I’m tired of all the big shots getting property for $1. Who are they to receive special treatment?” said Postupack, who owns an auto repair business and tackle shop opened by his father 41 years ago.
Public sale promised
County Chief Solicitor C. David Pedri told County Council committee members earlier this month he is developing a proposed policy outlining procedures for the public to buy hundreds of vacant lots and land slivers that ended up in the county’s name during the past 200 years.
Pedri said he would present the proposal to council members in June for their consideration.
Several county administrations had called for the wholesale unloading of surplus county property to reduce liability and generate revenue from the sale and ongoing real estate tax payments, but the plans never got off the ground.
Prior county officials maintained the law requires the county to seek the appraised value when selling county property.
Pedri said that requirement still applies, though prospective buyers would have the option to obtain an appraisal and negotiate a lower price with the county. The county’s property assessments also may used as an opinion of value, he said.
The lot was assessed at $15,500 in the county’s 2009 reassessment.
Councilwoman Kathy Dobash, who chairs the council real estate committee that will first review the proposal, said she was contacted by a Mountain Top resident frustrated over his continued inability to buy a county-owned parcel attached to his property.
Postupack said he offered around $12,000 in 2008 because he’d have to initiate action to obtain proper zoning. The city informed him the lot reverted back to residential zoning, even though it had been used for commercial purposes for decades, he said.
Postupack regularly picks up debris on the portion of the county lot closest to his building because many believe the parcel is part of his business.
“It reflects on me,” he said.
While he’s still interested in acquiring the property, Postupack said he’d have to rethink his offer because he believes properties in the city’s downtown have depreciated significantly in recent years.
“I’ve spoken to customers who have homes valued at $90,000, and they can’t get $45,000,” he said.
As future plans for the lot are debated, Councilwoman Eileen Sorokas urged the administration to clean up the site.
Lawton said he instructed management Wednesday to initiate a cleanup plan for any county-owned properties that have become eyesores.