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Blighted Goshen site turned over to Witmer’s

Ethan Witmer, left, operations manager of Witmer’s Feed and Grain, accepts the deed to the dilapidated property behind him on South Pricetown Road as part of a partnership with the Mahoning County Land Bank and Goshen Township Trustees to address a problem property. Taking part in the deed transfer ceremony Thursday were, from left, Witmer, Mahoning County Land Bank Executive Director Debora Flora, Mahoning County Treasurer and Land Bank Chair Dan Yemma, Goshen Township Trustees Shawn Mesler and Teresa Stratton and Mahoning County Land Bank Board of Directors member Mike Pinkerton. Witmer’s, which has a location across the road, will demolish the house and clean up the longtime vacant property, along with getting rid of what’s left of another building on a separate parcel. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

SALEM — A dilapidated home and collapsed fruit house are going bye-bye from the landscape on South Pricetown Road thanks to a unique first-time public/private partnership.

Goshen Township Trustees, the Mahoning County Land Bank and Witmer’s Feed and Grain came together to solve the blighted property issue, holding a land deed transfer celebration Thursday at the site.

“This worked out perfect,” Goshen Township Trustee Teresa Stratton said.

The property at 13810 South Pricetown Road includes five parcels of vacant land, with a house full of holes in the roof on one parcel and a building known locally as the fruit house that collapsed into the road a few years ago, on another parcel. The property has been sitting empty for at least 10 years and been the source of citizen complaints to Goshen Township Trustees.

According to Stratton and fellow Trustee Shawn Mesler, previous trustees had considered buying the property to clean it up, but the cost was too great. They’re glad the issue can finally be resolved.

“We often serve as a pass-through vehicle by acquiring vacant, tax-delinquent properties and transferring them to other entities,” land bank Executive Director Debora Flora said in a press release. “But we’re adding a new twist by working with local governments, who have coordinated the purchasing and clean-up work with private parties.”

In this case, she explained, there were two different property owners and two separate tax foreclosures for the 2-acre site. Knowing the land bank could acquire the properties with clean titles, with the taxes and any other issues cleared away, she told Mesler to find someone willing to take ownership and the responsibility of cleanup. All the business had to do was cover the cost of transferring the title, along with taking on the cost of cleanup.

Mesler identified Witmer’s Feed and Grain, which operates one of its five locations just across the road from the problem site.

“The opportunity was presented to us. It was close, an eyesore, and we wanted to take care of it,” Witmer’s Feed and Grain Operations Manager Ethan Witmer said.

Plans call for tearing down all the buildings and smoothing out the land. He said they could possibly use the land for future expansion, but for now they’ll just maintain it.

“Just cleaning it up, making it nice,” he said.

Witmer’s Feed and Grain started in 1977, founded by Ethan’s grandparents, David and Joanna. His parents, Michael and Laura, own and operate the business now. The headquarters is located on Renkenberger Road, Columbiana, with the Millstone Farm and Garden store location and Agronomy Center both on state Route 46. The other two locations are the one off of South Pricetown Road on Front Street and one in Berlin, Pa.

“This is very exciting to finally resolve the dilapidated house,” Mesler said.

He also said this will help property values of the neighbors, too.

A second title transfer celebration took place in Sebring at the 18-acre site of the former Royal Sebring China Co. on South 15th Street, now owned by homegrown Sebring native Michael Conny, owner of MAC Trailer Manufacturing Inc. of Alliance. MAC Trailer also operates a plant in Salem.

Sebring village officials named Conny as a good candidate to take on the property where factory buildings fell victim to fire in 2010. The press release said the property “has remained vacant due to significant real estate tax delinquency. The property, with its overgrown weeds and piles of rubble, has been displeasing to village residents, particularly the customers of a popular diner across the street. Residents have sought action from village officials in recent years.”

Flora said Conny is doing something for his hometown by agreeing to take over ownership of the property and cleaning it up. The property covers 20 parcels and according to Mahoning County Treasurer Dan Yemma, who also chairs the Mahoning County Land Bank, the tax delinquency was six figures.

He called the partnership between the communities, the land bank and the businesses a win, win, win for everybody and something good for the properties.

“These will now be in the hands of responsible owners. We want them maintained and the taxes current,” Yemma said.

In the press release, he said, “We join Sebring and Goshen Township in thanking these business owners for pledging to clean up these sites for the communities’ benefit.”

Per the press release, the land bank is a nonprofit community improvement corporation whose mission is to acquire vacant, abandoned, tax-delinquent properties and make them productive again. The land bank also helps local governments “in assembling land for future projects and collaborates with civic, religious and nonprofit organizations to create new green spaces and community gardens.”

mgreier@salemnews.net

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