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Neighbors rejoice at demolition of ‘scary’ property

By Jeffrey Pieters

jpieters@postbulletin.com

The night before an excavator’s shovel tore apart an alleged "drug house" in Rochester’s Kutzky Park neighborhood, some current and past neighbors let themselves take out some long-restrained frustrations on it.

"We went over and whacked it," said Stephanie Kilen, a former neighborhood leader who lived two doors down from the rental house at 815 First St. S.W. She moved away about two years ago because the house, the destination of 60 police calls in a 16-month period around that time, had gotten "scary."

There were signs of drug dealing, and one memorable episode where 10 to 15 men brawled in the street.

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"It really made me say, ‘I can’t raise kids here,’" Kilen said.

Those memories might have been put to rest Wednesday, when the house was reduced to a heap of rubble, the rubble piled in a trash bin and hauled away.

New plans are to build a two-story, four-unit condominium there. The redevelopment, planned by First Homes, a program of the Rochester Area Foundation, is intended to jump-start revitalization in the immediate area by replacing the worst property with what figures to be one of the best.

First Homes bought the property in August 2005 for $125,000. It’s taken until now for the nonprofit agency to win approval for the condo plan and secure the needed demolition permits.

"It’s pretty exciting to have this property that’s been such a problem for so long ... finally coming down," said Chris Flood, a member of the Kutzky Park Neighborhood Association overseeing the project for First Homes.

"As soon as it’s warm enough to start the foundation, we’ll get going," Flood said. "It should be up and ready for sale by fall."

Joyce Stenstrom, who lives across the street, called the demolished house a former "eyesore," and was so excited about its removal, she videotaped some of the work.

Stenstrom got to peek inside the house, a former five-plex, not long before the demolition. An upstairs apartment was fire-damaged, and the basement, where renters also lived, was dank and unpleasant.

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"It felt sad to think that people were living that way," she said. "It was very sobering, actually."

Former resident L.C. Smith of Rochester stopped by to watch the demolition. He lived at the building in 2001, for about a year while going through a divorce, he said.

It wasn’t a place he enjoyed living, he said, although he does like the Kutzky Park neighborhood. It’s where he’s lived since moving to Rochester from Chicago in 1994.

Then, compared to his old neighborhood in Chicago, the streets were "so clean you could eat a sandwich off the sidewalk," he said.

He likes the neighborhood’s urban pulse.

"This is the heart and soul of Rochester," he said.

If First Homes had aacted sooner, Kilen and her family would probably still live in the neighborhood.

"Every day I miss that neighborhood," she said. "I’ll just be happy to go by and see it (the demolished house) gone."

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