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Disgusted neighbor buys Lackawanna eyesore to demolish it

The apartment building at 622 Ridge Road in Lackawanna is a mess: Chunks of vinyl siding are missing, rotted windowsills sag and curl, and there’s no working plumbing or electrical wiring inside.

Before becoming vacant about a decade ago, the property regularly attracted the attention of police responding to reports of drug use and other problems. Neighbors complained for years to city officials.

Now one of those neighbors, Rosemary Scahill – who lives around the corner on Meadow Lane – is taking matters into her own hands.

Tired of waiting for the city to act, the operating room nurse decided to buy the blighted building located two blocks from City Hall and demolish it herself.

“It’s going to be worth every penny to me, because I’ve been fighting for 20 years,” said Scahill. “At this point, I don’t care how much it’s going to cost me.”

The City Council agreed to sell the property for $6,000 to Scahill, who estimates she’ll have to spend an additional $20,000 on demolition and materials disposal. She plans to leave the site as green space, at least in the short term.

“God bless her,” said Joseph R. Gerard, who owns a barbershop next door to the apartment building. “I’m glad to see it come down, because the city has just dragged its feet. … There’s been vagrants sneaking in there and living in there.”

Gerard said he was interested in buying the property to expand his barbershop but wasn’t made aware it was for sale.

City officials chose Scahill’s bid over an offer of $1,000 from another resident, Justin M. Zybert.

Zybert proposed spending more than $100,000 to fix up and reconfigure the building for six apartments.

“It would have been a beautiful building when done,” said Zybert, a Lackawanna firefighter who gutted and renovated his current home on Electric Avenue. “It would have gotten back on the tax roll. But, hey, that’s their decision. You can’t argue with it.”

Scahill, who maintains a pristine home, wasn’t eager to see someone else take another crack at renovating the Ridge Road property, which hasn’t fared well under previous owners.

In 2005, a local investor purchased the building for $85,000. Two years later, a New York City property company bought it at auction for $25,000. The city eventually foreclosed on it in 2011 due to code violations.

“That building has been nothing but problems in this city since as long as I can remember,” said Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski.

While serving as 2nd Ward councilman, Szymanski said, he received so many complaints about the property that he once used his own lawn mower to cut overgrown grass there.

At least 20 other homes across Lackawanna are in even worse condition and pose a greater safety hazard, he said.

City officials, meanwhile, have allotted $200,000 in the current budget for demolitions – enough to take down eight or nine houses.

“I don’t know that we have the means to knock it down,” Szymanski said of 622 Ridge. “That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.”

Scahill said she realizes some people might think she’s crazy for spending her own money to take care of someone else’s mess.

“You have to take back your own city,” she said. “I was to the point where I had my house up for sale, and then I said, ‘Why should I leave?’ ”

“I care about this city,” she added. “I grew up here. I’ve lived here my whole life.”

Scahill plans to tear down the building with the help of her boyfriend, Mike Affronte, and other friends.

“We’re going to take it apart the same way it was put together,” said Affronte, a construction laborer.