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W-B to crack down on rentals

Proposed ordinance to target properties where criminal activity persists.

WILKES-BARRE – City council Tuesday reviewed an ordinance aimed at cracking down on rental properties where criminal activity persists.

Council will vote on preliminary approval of the ordinance Thursday night. Assistant city attorney William Vinsko said he will make a few revisions to the ordinance before it is passed on final reading next month.

The ordinance, when enacted, will amend Chapter 7 of the city code of ordinances, adding a provision for automatic closure of rental units under certain conditions.

A building can be closed for six months if: a riot occurs on the premises; three or more violations occur within a six-month span; three or more disruptive conduct reports or police reports result from incidents on the property within a six-month period, or if an occupant or owner has implied or actual knowledge of drug activity at the property or is convicted of selling or distributing narcotics or controlled substances.

The ordinance defines knowledge of drug activity as attributable to the occupant or owner based on police knowledge and experience of drug activity at the building.

“The city needs this ordinance as soon as possible,” said Councilman Rick Cronauer.

Vinsko said the city zoning officer and code enforcement officer would work in conjunction with police when violators are identified.

Mayor Tom Leighton said he had a few concerns about some of the language in the ordinance and would discuss them with Vinsko prior to Thursday’s council meeting.

In other business, council discussed several change orders on the Intermodal Transportation Center and on the Coal Street Park renovation project.

At Coal Street, there is a change order for $48,680 for relocating existing utilities and another for $174,700 for site security and a temporary structure.

Council will consider entering into an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Appraisal Review Specialists for $37,720. Appraisals will be done on city properties along Coal Street that will be affected by the Coal Street extension project.

“These are very small right-of-way acquisitions,” Leighton said. “We are looking at taking slivers of some of the properties needed for the street widening.”

The Coal Street makeover that will connect downtown with Interstate 81 is expected to cost $24 million. Coal Street will be widened to five lanes and be extended to Union Street in a two-phase project. Leighton said federal funds will pay for 80 percent of the project, while county and local money will cover the balance.

Council will vote on approving the Barney Street Bridge project with PennDOT. Council said the funding for the $2.2 million project will be 80 percent federal and 20 percent local.

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