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Prince George's looks to crack down on blighted properties

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Photo - Maryland's foreclosure rate was the highest in the country this spring. (Examiner file photo)
Maryland's foreclosure rate was the highest in the country this spring. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

Poor upkeep of blighted properties in Prince George's County, a frequent complaint from residents and a driving factor in falling home values, will come under new scrutiny as county officials seek to revamp the way they inspect properties.

The problem has been exacerbated in recent years by the foreclosure crisis, according to CountyStat Manager Adam Ortiz.

"Clearly it makes a tremendous impact," he said. "There's a large inventory of properties that nobody's living in. That means there's nobody there to weed the garden or mow the lawns."

CountyStat officials are studying ways to make the county's inspection process more efficient by digitizing what has been a paper-record process of tracking property violations and repairs.

That could help the county more quickly identify blighted properties such as one in the Kentland area, where Carla Reid, deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and public infrastructure, and a team of workers mowed grass and cleaned up branches and debris outside a vacant home.

The work helped the property "blend in and makes the rest of the neighborhood look nice, because it was sticking out," Reid said.

The county executive's office is also considering legislation that would limit the amount of time a property can remain vacant, down from one year to six months, according to Reid. Another bill could allow the county to reimburse itself for repairs it makes to damaged properties.

And County Executive Rushern Baker issued an executive order earlier this month to create a Department of Permits, Inspections and Enforcement to handle property inspections. The order requires the County Council's approval.

The new department would absorb the Department of Environmental Resources' permitting responsibility. That department has struggled to keep track of permits for county businesses as they change hands -- a problem exemplified by the police department's crackdown on illegal nightclubs through permit violations.

Separating permitting and inspection from the county's environmental responsibilities will provide a clear view "in terms of the expectations and results we're trying to accomplish," Reid said.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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