City Eyesores remain a problem - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

City Eyesores remain a problem

February 23, 2004

Albany - Junk property clutters parts of Albany. You don't have to look far to see dilapidated buildings, many of which have been abandoned for months or even years. So who owns these buildings, and can anything be done to clean up the property?

Fish entrails fill the garbage outside the Fish House at 1625 East Board. Chief Code Enforcement Officer Robert Carter is investigating the Fish House and the adjacent building for numerous code violations.

"There are windows missing, with boarding to cover it that is inadequate. The doors is open to the public, and he's been ordered to secure it," said Chief Carter. Last year, the owner Henry McKey was ordered to renovate the building or tear it down.

Glenn Ford manages the apartments behind the Fish House and says the odor and the dilapidate building are running away his tenants. "I had several tenants move out because of the odor. The ones that are living there now are trying to move to the other side of Albany Homes to get away from the view and the odor," said Ford.

McKey didn't make the repairs, was ordered to court, and given 130 days to clean up. "That time frame to make those changes is due to expire in March," said Chief Carter. But, don't expect to see those changes made.

Henry McKey is now in jail for drug charges. His wife, who wouldn't talk on camera, says she doesn't have the money for renovations or demolition. But, she promised to properly board up the windows and lock the doors.

Vacant building often become hidden venues for drug-users and the homeless. A makeshift clothes line and a self-made bed at abandoned property on Broad Avenue show someone has turned the building into a home. "The more we can do to improve our communities, the more we can do to fight crime," said Chief Carter.

Drive a few miles west on Broad Avenue and you'll see another eyesore. Trash surrounds the old radiator and tire shop. In 1998, A Florida company bought this property at a tax auction, hoping to make a profit. But they had no luck and gave the building to the city in 2002. And nearly two years later, it remains.

"Georgia EPD won't let us do anything to disturb the soil," said City attorney Nathan Davis. Davis say the City's hands are tied while the Environmental Protection Division investigates contamination from improperly disposed chemicals used by the radiator shop years ago.

"We now trying to finish an inspections of the structure itself, that is the concrete buildings. If that report turns our okay, then will ask state to tear down building," said Davis. The property is just yards away from the multi-million dollar Gateway project, ironically a sales tax project designed to spruce up the image of downtown Albany. Until the EPD investigation is over, this eyesore isn't going anywhere.

Another building that's been vacant for almost a decade is the old Heritage House hotel on Oglethorpe Boulevard. "There are still some entrances open if someone wants to climb the fence to get to them. There's been signs of vandalism, theft, vagrants and homeless people," said Chief Carter.

A fence surrounds the hotel now owned by the General Missionary Baptist Convention. In 2002, the group wanted to renovate the building and open a four-star conference center. But that never happened.

A year ago, Code enforcement ordered the convention to put up a fence and board the windows. But, now there are more problems. "We had pool treated for mosquitoes last summer," said Chief Carter. And, the roof is leaking. Chief Carter says if these repairs aren't made soon, the group will be ordered to court.

"It appears they're not going to take the action that we hoped they would, and we're going to have to resort to a court action," said Chief Carter.

Convention executives didn't return our phone calls. Their lawyer said that after 9/11, funding for the hotel renovation fell threw. Now, the building if for sale. "There is a lot of property here in City that's dead, that no one wants to do anything with," said Chief Carter.

You may know of other properties that many would consider an eyesore. But, it's not easy to simply tear down the building. The city must cite the owners, allow them 7 to 30 days to make repairs. Then if owners don't comply, the city can take court action.

"Eventually, the Municipal Court will issue an order allowing the City to tear down the property. The expense will become a lien on property," said Davis.

Many owners can't pay back the city, and the cost lands on the taxpayers. As time passes, the vacant buildings fall further and further into disrepair, leaving little hope for the future of the property.

Posted at 4:45PM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com