FEMA approves funds to raze tornado-damaged “zombie” properties in Harrison Twp.

Harrison Twp. has received tentative approval to use FEMA funds to demolish this house on Maplegrove Avenue rocked off its foundation by a Memorial Day 2019 tornado. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Harrison Twp. has received tentative approval to use FEMA funds to demolish this house on Maplegrove Avenue rocked off its foundation by a Memorial Day 2019 tornado. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF

The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved funds this month for Harrison Twp. to demolish the first seven so-called “zombie” properties in the region left damaged and abandoned after Memorial Day 2019 tornadoes.

“The ones on this list still look like they did the day after the tornado,” said Harrison Twp. Administrator Kris McClintick. “They’re dangerous and they need to come down.”

Clearing the properties is a key step toward recovery and a clearer path to revitalize neighborhoods, McClintick said.

“This means the final remaining few properties that are eyesores will be coming down,” he said.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Walking the Path of the Storm

According to FEMA’s private property debris removal program rules, a structure must be a threat to public health and safety, and partial or complete collapse is imminent.

All of the seven structures conditionally approved for demolition are in the Northridge area. Four are on Maplegrove Avenue, one of the streets hit the hardest on a night when a record 16 tornadoes touched down in the region, including the powerful EF4 twister that hit Harrison Twp. on its 18-mile path across Montgomery County.

Nearly 15% of all property parcels in Harrison Twp. sustained damage — 371 were either destroyed or experienced major structural damage, according to county data.

One of the addresses on the FEMA list is next door to Justin Kucharski’s house on Rolfe Avenue. He said bringing down damaged and vacant houses is “of huge importance” and would improve the neighborhood.

“We’ve had squatters taking advantage of these,” he said. “They are taking it upon themselves to go into these places and salvage whatever is left and … and do things they shouldn’t be. That’s bad for the area.”

More than a year after the tornado, Kucharski is still repairing his own house while living with his parents a few streets over on Oneida Avenue, where another house sits in shambles and on the demolition list approved by FEMA.

MORE: Harrison Twp. parks, Dixie strip, may never look the same after tornado

The township initially sent dangerous property notifications to 157 owners and winnowed the list as owners made fixes through insurance or notified the township of their intention to repair properties. The township sent a list to FEMA of about a dozen properties where there was no contact with owners or possibility of repairs through other means. The township has resubmitted two properties to FEMA that were not conditionally approved on June 3.

The FEMA rules also require the township to legally condemn the structures, conduct an environmental review and allow the state preservation office to determine if an archaeological review is needed. Once those requirements are satisfied, the township will begin bidding the projects for demolition, McClintick said.

“I think we’d like to have this complete by the end of the end of the year,” he said.

MORE: Tornado recovery: How to rid neighborhoods of ‘zombie’ properties

In Trotwood, 203 structures were left unlivable after the tornado, according to county records.

Trotwood sent a list of eight residential properties to FEMA last week on its application for the funding, according to Jung-Han Chen, the city’s planning and development director.

A review of Dayton properties last fall revealed 60 unrepaired tornado-damaged homes. But none of the structures qualify for the FEMA program, most due to the extent of deferred maintenance existing prior to the storm, Todd Kinskey, the city’s planning director, said last month.

Officials have said the cost to tear down a house runs $10,000 to $20,000, depending on whether asbestos removal or other environmental remediation is required.

MORE: Tornado impact: Explore the destruction off this woman’s balcony

Earlier this week, a new Restaurant Depot opened in Harrison Twp. more than two years after the company broke ground. Just weeks before it was due to open last year, the EF4 tornado tore apart the building, forcing the company to rebuild.

Steven Wells, owner of Wells Electric Service on North Dixie Drive that was destroyed in the tornado, has submitted rebuilding plans and expects approved permits in hand within a couple of weeks, he said.

“We’re good. We’re moving forward,” said Wells, who moved operations to a satellite office in Troy. “We’re looking forward to getting things put back together. Things are a little more convenient from that (Harrison Twp.) location.”

McClintick called the rebuilding of both Restaurant Depot and Wells Electric wins for the township because both owners could have pulled up stakes and rebuilt elsewhere.

Explore MORE: Interactive map shows thousands of tornado damaged properties in 3-county area

Unlike residential properties, FEMA will not provide funds to demolish several commercial properties that sit damaged and abandoned in Harrison Twp.

“We have a handful, probably four to five, that are in the same boat,” he said. “We are now figuring out exactly what we’re going to do. We’ll have to probably raze those. It’s just a matter of how we’re going to pay for that.”