Presston resident seeks payment for unauthorized demo
Photo by Chadwick Dolgos After resident John Tacey tore down by hand a vacant unit attached to his home over a period of two years, this is what remains at the Ohio Street site in the Presston neighborhood of Stowe.
By Chadwick Dolgos
A Stowe resident is demanding compensation from the township, claiming he was encouraged by a commissioner to demolish a vacant property despite not possessing its deed.
During a Sept. 13 public meeting, Presston resident John Tacey told commissioners over a period of two years he tore down a site that was “getting ready to fall down.” The building in question was the other side of the duplex attached to his Ohio Street home.
Tacey alleges Commissioner Cheryl McDermott assured him she would obtain the deed to the site for him two years ago. The structure is now entirely leveled but Tacey still does not have ownership.
Tacey is requesting the township either provide him with a deed to the property or $20,000.
"I held up my end of the deal,” he said. “I tore the house down. Where's my deed?”
McDermott was accompanied to the meeting by her private attorney, William Rodgers III, who advised her not to respond to Tacey and also declined to comment when asked.
During a later interview, where she objected to each of Tacey’s claims, McDermott said she was "protecting [her]self" by hiring Rodgers.
According to McDermott, Tacey did not inform her at the time he was going through a rent-to-own process on his own property.
She said she tried to communicate to Tacey details of Allegheny County’s vacant property recovery programming but that he “didn’t want to listen.” Bottom line, in order to be eligible for the county’s vacant lot program, Tacey’s name would have to be on the deed.
“I last checked on Friday, and his name was still not on the deed,” McDermott said.
Tacey, who collects scrap for the township free of charge, said he purchased his half of the duplex in 2016. He later noticed a large hole in the roof of the connecting home where water was running through.
Fearful that his half was going to be damaged by the water, he started investigating solutions and attended a Stowe commissioners public hearing to make initial inquiries about the connecting property.
“I talked to Cheryl McDermott at the meeting and explained to her the situation,” Tacey said. “She said she had a list of 16 properties down here that she was taking bids on, and the highest bidder gets the property.”
Tacey said he offered McDermott a $100 bid in 2017. During the process, he also tracked down the last surviving owners of the property, who were living in Chicago at the time. He made plans to travel to Chicago and offer the owner $500 accompanied by pictures to illustrate the property’s poor condition.
“[McDermott] stopped me from doing that and said it would be cheaper if I did it her way,” he said.
“Like an idiot, I listened to her.”
Unable to bring in any machinery due to the property’s close proximity, Tacey tore down 54 Ohio St. by hand over the course of two summers. In exchange for the work he’s done, he is demanding either the deed to the property or $20,000.
Four county inspectors inspected the property during the process and Tacey even received a dumpster, which he believed was supplied by the township. McDermott explained that the dumpster was donated by a “businessman” interested in expediting the clean-up process.
“[Tacey] was trying to take everything out of his yard little by little,” she said. “There was so much debris.”
Tacey can still receive the deed to the property through the county vacant lot program if he successfully transfers the deed to his current property into his name, according to McDermott. Without his name on the deed, however, Tacey remains ineligible for the county’s program.
The other commissioners and officials present did not comment on the issue during the meeting. Commissioners Dave Rugh, Chester Glowacki and Kelly Cropper Hall were not in attendance. Township Solicitor Brad Matta told Tacey they would look into the problem.