Vacant lot near courthouse among properties in back-tax sale

March 27, 2012

City won’t reclaim $61,000 in funding used to raze buildings on site in 2004.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

vacant-lot-on-North-River-streetWilkes-Barre demolished dilapidated row homes on this North River Street property near the county courthouse in 2004. The privately owned vacant site is listed in the free-and-clear portion of the Luzerne County back-tax auction on April 12, with bids starting around $1,000.A Wilkes-Barre parcel with unpaid property taxes dating back 17 years is among 260 Luzerne County properties slated for back-taxauction on April 12.

The 0.46-acre vacant lot on North River Street near the county courthouse once housed deteriorated brick row homes demolished by the city in 2004.

Diomena Minichello had purchased the property in 1993 and started defaulting on the property taxes in 1995, county records show. Her son, Michael, inherited the property after her death in 2003, and the back-tax tab has escalated to $138,512.

A bankruptcy proceeding and court orders kept the property out of sales for years, according to representatives of Northeast Revenue Service LLC, the county’s tax claim operator.

The property was listed in a 2009 first-stage upset sale after all the court stays were lifted, but nobody bid because the buyer would be stuck with all taxes and liens connected to the parcel.

Liens and taxes are forgiven at second-stage, free-and-clear or judicial sales. The Minichello property is listed at a starting bid around $1,000 in the free-and-clear portion of the April 12 auction.

Challenges serving legal paperwork to the property and lien holders prevented the parcel from being listed in free-and-clear sales until now, according to Northeast Revenue.

Because liens are now forgiven, the city won’t reclaim $61,000 in community development funding obtained to demolish the structures in 2004. City officials had removed residents from the row homes in 1999 because of building code violations, and the structures became a magnet for the homeless and partying teens.

Mayor Tom Leighton said at the time that several developers were interested in the land for apartments or condos. The mayor said Monday he does not know if the city will submit a bid as it has on several other properties in the past.

“We always evaluate properties we think would be beneficial. I’m sure we’ll definitely be interested in seeing what the potential sales price might be,” Leighton said.

The building that once housed the Ground Round at the Laurel Mall in Hazle Township is also among the 40 free-and-clear listings on April 12. Bids for the building, which sits on leased land, start around $1,100.

Most of the roughly 220 upcoming upset sale listings stem from owners who defaulted on repayment plans they negotiated to get removed from the November upset sale, said John Rodgers, of Northeast Revenue.

In the past, payment plan defaulters would be off the hook until an annual upset sale was held in the fall, but Northeast Revenue stopped that county practice by holding sales more often.

Rodgers said his company also aggressively pushes to sell properties in inactive bankruptcy proceedings.

“We’re starting to dwindle down the long-term problems that have been here forever. We have fewer multiyear delinquencies,” he said.

Properties are supposed to be auctioned if taxes have gone unpaid for two years. To get out of a sale, property owners must pay taxes owed, file for bankruptcy or convince a judge to grant more time.

Four commercial properties owned by Hazleton area developer James Lagana and a mobile home park belonging to Lagana Enterprises Inc. – all in Hazle Township -- are slated for the April 12 upset sale.

Lagana had obtained court orders to get these properties out of past sales.

His properties listed in the auction, along with the amount of back taxes owed: Holly Lynn Mobile Home Park, $27,895; an Airport Beltway commercial garage, $9,115; and three commercial office and retail buildings, also on the Airport Beltway -- the Laurel Professional Center, $32,087; the Beltway Commons, $81,356; and the Franklin Corporate Center, $57,289.

Some other commercial properties in the upset listing along with the minimum starting bids:

  • The former Hart Restaurant on Hazle Street in Wilkes-Barre, owned by Fidelity Deposit and Discount Bank, $19,185.
  • A retail building on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre owned by Then You Win Inc. that has housed Rides & Rhythms, $40,837.
  • A manufacturing and warehouse operation at 12 Oregon St., Wilkes-Barre, owned by Bernard Rockman and others, $133,059.
  • Mr. Kleen Car Wash, Wyoming Avenue, Exeter, $35,585.
  • Center Street Café, Pittston, owned by Michael and Virginia Struzzeri, $27,220.
  • A medical office building at 20 N. Main St., Pittston, owned by Santo Lafoca, $59,639.
  • The Stanley Olszewski Florist building, East Union Street, Nanticoke, $22,168.
  • An airplane hangar owned by Ronald Komishock at the Hazleton Airport, $7,920.

Upset properties that don’t sell will advance to a free-and-clear sale in August.