Land cleanup order for imprisoned owner

Abandoned properties at 77 and 81 W. Main

Abandoned properties at 77 and 81 W. Main Street in Kings Park. (Feb. 13, 2012) (Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz)

Smithtown Town authorities have ordered a Kings Park property owner to clean up two unfinished houses that have stood vacant for nearly a decade.

There's only one problem: The owner's in federal prison.

Frederic A. Powell was given until the end of this week to remove debris at the abandoned properties, at 77 and 81 W. Main St. But officials say they are ready to have town workers clean up the parcels -- and add the cost to Powell's property tax bill.

Town officials planned to mail documents ordering the cleanup to Powell at the Allenwood federal prison in White Deer, Pa., where he is serving a 4-year sentence for conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud. Powell, 56, of East Meadow, is due for release in April 2015.

"We don't expect him to" comply with the cleanup order, said Councilman Edward Wehrheim. "But then that would allow us to go in there and clean it and recoup our money."

He could not estimate cleanup costs.

Attempts to reach Powell's representatives were unsuccessful. His houses are among 20 properties targeted for cleanup since August by town officials because of complaints from neighbors.

Powell never completed the two-story, single-family homes -- known by neighbors as the Hightower houses, named after a previous owner -- and they are unfit for habitation, said Kings Park Civic Association president Sean Lehmann.

"The civic association doesn't even consider them houses. They're incomplete structures," he said. "We feel they're a hazard to the community, and they should be condemned and razed."

Wehrheim said officials hope Powell sells the parcels. "If not, once the property is cleaned up, then we have to decide what we want to do, whether we want to buy the property or tear it down," he said.

Lehmann said he believes there are no prospective buyers. "I don't think anybody has expressed interest in years. If you look at them, the wood is suffering major dry rot. The porches are collapsing," he said. ". . . It might be cheaper just to knock them down."

The town board voted unanimously last month to order the cleanup. Wehrheim said town officials are acting cautiously before taking tougher steps against Powell "so we're not sued down the road." Lehmann said it's "frustrating" to wait for the town to take action: "We understand that the town has to go through the legal process, but in the meantime the neighbors in the immediate area have to suffer."

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