New Development Coming to Fire-damaged Neighborhood

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A fire nearly three years ago in Scranton was so big every single firefighter on duty was called to get it under control.

Nearly three years later there are signs the neighborhood is coming back to life.

That fire, which was so devastating and displaced 30 people is still fresh in the minds of people on Monroe Avenue. Now, one of the property owners is rebuilding. Two new homes will be there in about a month, but the redevelopment doesn't come without controversy.

It was a day that people in Scranton's hill section won't soon forget, April 28, 2009.

Firefighters said a cigarette lighter sparked the fire that filled five homes on Monroe Avenue.

"I never saw flames like that in my life. It was, and it just jumped from one house to the other," said Monroe Avenue resident Phyllis Bohenek.

Two duplexes and another house were destroyed that day, leaving a hole in the neighborhood for almost three years. Now two of the long-vacant lots are showing signs of life.

The foundations are in for two new duplex houses, scheduled to be finished in February.

"Actually, people were throwing garbage there. Now it's a lot cleaner. It's starting to look like a neighborhood. It's a lot better," said neighbor Andres Perea.

Not all of the neighbors think the new buildings will be better. The developer said protests from some homeowners is one of the reasons why it has taken so long for the project to get off the ground.

Those concerned neighbors said since the fire life on Monroe Avenue has been more peaceful and they don't want another rental unit on their block.

"Even if we could've all gotten together and bought it, and seeded it and just made it grass we would have, but he wants to rebuild," Bohenek added.

Thirty people were displaced by the fire in 2009, including some of Rangesh Shah's tenants. He owns the new buildings and said he agreed to make some changes to to his plans to keep his neighbors happy, but he said, his property laid dormant for too long.

"And this is the time now that we've finally come up to the conclusion, and we've put something together totally new, and I'm hoping this will last for a long time," Shah said.

One of the developer's concessions was to construct parking behind the new buildings for the future tenants so they don't clog the street.

The homes will be ready for renting later this year.