Curious neighbors gathered near Roosevelt High School on Friday to hear about the strong measures city officials say they will take against the owner of many blighted properties in the neighborhood.
“It’s unfortunate that you’ve had to suffer through this for a long time,” Mayor Ed Murray told the crowd.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re about to take the actions that we’re going to take.”
But he said the city has to act against the landlords, Hugh and Martha Sisley, who owe the city $3.3 million in civil penalties for violations connected to the 48 properties they own.
“Over decades the city has tried to work with the Sisleys to get them to improve and maintain this property,” the mayor said.
Sisley has demolished two of his houses between the high school and Northeast 65th Street, leaving a narrow strip of green amidst other boarded-up properties. It’s that strip of green that city officials hope to acquire through negotiations with Sisley and turn into a park.
City Attorney Pete Holmes said he hopes the Sisleys will turn over the deeds of two vacant properties in exchange for having the “fair market value” deducted from what they currently owe. If no deal is reached, the city will seek to have the properties seized and sold at auction.
“The first priority is to get this open space deeded to the city for a park,” Holmes said.
The mayor will introduce a measure next week allowing the city to acquire the property and place it under jurisdiction of the parks department.
Neighbors cheered the news of the potential park. But Jim O’Halloran said there seems to be a long road ahead to make the park happen.
“I’m very hopeful and I’m pulling for this all the way,” O'Halloran said. “The fact that the city authorities would come out and speak to us today in this way gives me optimism, but I’m still trying to contain my expectations.”
Another local resident, Peter James, said neighbors are hoping for more action on the unsightly buildings that Sisley still owns, including the adjoining property slated for development by the Roosevelt Development Group. Those buildings are now fenced off and boarded up.
“In the meantime they’re ugly, they’re a health risk, they’re a sanitation risk, they’re a vagrancy risk and they need to go,” James said.
Holmes agreed the bigger conversation will be which of the Sisleys’ properties the city should go after next, if this strategy succeeds. The city’s code compliance director, Faith Lumsden, said the city is seeking a court order to force them to tear down one of the adjacent houses, or even a group of them. But she warned them not to expect action too soon.
Her comment that “we may be lucky, they may come voluntarily tear them down” drew jaded laughter from the assembled neighbors. They’ve complained about the Sisleys’ properties for years.
Jeff Grant is the Sisleys’ attorney. He said his clients have been in negotiations with the city and he’s “hopeful and confident that something will get worked out.” However he said the park proposal took them by surprise, and he called the timing “ill-advised.”