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Blight plan hits home

When Keith Hassler heard about Medford's fight against run-down properties and blight, he immediately thought of a vacant house near him that fits the description.

"I hate to have it in my neighborhood," said Hassler. "I hate to have it so close to the new high school. It's a terrible reflection on Medford."

What really piqued the 76-year-old's interest is that the city of Medford owns the dilapidated, 1925 farmhouse at 1612 Orchard Home Drive, which on Monday had broken windows and a back door that was wide open to anybody who wanted to hold his nose and enter.

"It would make a halfway decent place for somebody to spend the night," said Hassler.

The city is considering an ordinance that would require owners to register vacant houses because of the growing number of foreclosures. The Medford police are worried these houses might attract vagrants or vandals, leading to blight in neighborhoods.

To prevent this kind of blight, police want the ability to fine property owners up to $250 a day if the owners don't keep these houses looking relatively tidy while preventing people from illegally taking up residence in them. However, the city would prefer to work with property owners to get voluntary compliance.

Hassler's wife, Doris, walked over from her house a few blocks away to join her husband at the Orchard Home property.

The weeds were growing in the yard, holes had been punched in the drywall, cabinets had been ripped out of the kitchen and the toilets were in bad shape.

"I think it needs to be removed," said Doris, 75. "It used to be all locked up. I didn't see the inside until just the other day. The door was all knocked down."

The house sits less than a quarter-mile from the new South Medford High School, which is under construction. Built in 1925, the Orchard Home property was purchased by the city in 2004 for $318,000 for a possible right of way for a future extension of Cunningham Lane. The house apparently was rented for a couple of years by the city.

Bill Hoke, Medford deputy city manager, said he appreciates that Hassler brought this problem to his attention.

"I want to thank that gentleman for calling," he said.

The city plans to tear the building down eventually, but has to assess whether it contains lead paint or asbestos before proceeding.

"We need to get it on the ground," he said.

In the meantime, Hoke said he will send over city crews to inspect the house and board it up if necessary.

"We're taking action to correct that," he said.

There also is a chicken coop and an old shed on the property, which was in bad condition when the city acquired it and will eventually be torn down, said Hoke.

Mayor Gary Wheeler, who also happens to be Hassler's optometrist, said, "We have to follow our own rules. We have to do anything any citizen would do."

He said such problem homes can bring down a whole neighborhood, potentially attracting unwanted behavior.

"We don't want to create a situation where a squatter moves onto the property," he said.

Medford police Deputy Chief Tim George said the Orchard Home house is something he wants the city to address as soon as possible.

"If it's an obvious problem, we need to fix it," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

Keith Hassler lives near a property on Orchard Home Drive owned by the city of Medford that meets its own definition of blight. City officials said they would take steps to secure the house, which is scheduled for demolition to make way for a future extension of Cunningham Lane. - Bob Pennell