Utica zombie property might soon come back to life

A zombie property, in Utica, still haunts the neighborhood, in spite of cash and a commitment to fix it, nearly a year and a half ago.

Posted: Oct 16, 2020 5:42 PM

In July of 2019, New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, visited Utica to announce Zombie 2.0; $9 million for 48 communities to split, to rehab vacant, abandoned homes, with Utica getting $200,000. Attorney General James visited with a neighbor, Joseph Cucharale, Sr. outside his well-kept home on Hammond Ave. Mr. Cucharale has since passed away. Now, the headache belongs to his children, as they try to sell his home with an eyesore next door.

"I think the system failed my father, and, again, it should have been done a long time ago. You could have built a new house in that amount of time," says Joe Cucharale, Jr. "They finally started doing something, and everything just quit. There's no work being done on it."

The Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank's mission is to take ownership of and rehab such vacant, run-down, 'zombie' properties. The home on Hammond Ave. was the land bank's inaugural rehab in Utica. With that uncharted territory, came unanticipated problems.

"There was a problem with the title, the deed recording, when it happened, when we acquired the building, so the paperwork was actually lost for about a year. The consequence of that was that ultimately the building was foreclosed upon to the prior owner before the landbank had acquired it," says Land Bank Executive Director, Tolga Morawski. "The effect of that was we had to stop work on it because we didn't have proper title."

"It's a fairly new process and it certainly is taking longer than we like," says Utica Mayor, Robert Palmieri. "We're under the understanding through the land bank it'll be three months and it'll be gone."

Morawski says the problems have been resolved, and there's a resolution before the Utica Common Council on Wednesday, to transfer ownership of the Hammond Ave. zombie property to the Land Bank. He says they hope to have the property rehabbed and read for a private owner by the end of the year.

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