Commission gets tough with property owners -, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Commission gets tough with property owners

August 1, 2006

Albany --  Increasing complaints about abandoned properties across the city lead commissioners to react.

An Albany police officer's shooting of a woman in an abandoned house last week again brought to light the problem of dilapidated houses in the city. There are dozens of rundown, abandoned properties in Albany and many of them perpetuate crime; they serve as safe havens for drug deals and prostitutes.

Now, city commissioners will take action against property owners who allow their home or business to deteriorate.  

We've all seen them-- businesses with windows broken out, walls falling down. Sometimes the structures are condemned, but get caught up in court so that nothing is ever done about them. But commissioners hope newly adopted ordinances will change the way Albany looks.

Commissioner Morris Gurr got an ugly wake-up call when he first took seat in Ward three. The old Dairy was one of his first stops after taking office. "I think it's been boarded up some time in the past, but there's just too many openings in this facility, as y'all walked around you saw that. I don't know that it could be properly boarded up to keep the people out that wanted to be here."

And that's why he and other commissioners want to see buildings like this demolished. "We all agree that something needs to be done. Now, not tomorrow, but that we need to take action soon."

And sooner than later. Commissioner Jon Howard says the dilapidated structures aren't just ugly, they're dangerous. "You begin to wonder, 'how safe is this city?' if we continue to allow these structures to exist and take no immediate action."

And there are many other eyesores and unsafe structures. Commissioners even discussed taking money from reserves to demolish the old Heritage House Hotel on Oglethorpe.   Some steps have been taken to make sure vagrants don't take up residence here, but fences can be climbed, boards can be ripped off windows.

Commissioners say the additions only detract from the look of downtown. That's why they want to see places like this completed renovated or torn down.

And it's not just old businesses that are a problem. Just last week, a woman was shot when police were called to an abandoned house on South Davis Street after neighbors noticed curtains had been put up in the rundown house.

"Getting rid of things like this, it's on the commissioners to pass the policies, procedures, ordinances than we've had before and make them stricter and that's what we're trying to do," Gurr said.

"It does not give us a good image of what we, as a city, want to look like in the near future," said Howard. 

Code enforcers will soon inspect properties and move forward with plans to demolish if property owners don't bring their buildings up to code. The city plans to consolidate code enforcement, marshal and bailiff officers in a few weeks and cross train them to help enforce the eyesore law.

Code enforcers will also soon begin cracking down on owners of junk cars, which will be tagged, and the owner will have three days to dispose of them. If they aren't moved, the owner may be summoned to court.

City Manager Alfred Lott says junk cars bring down the look of a neighborhood.   "When you don't enforce your codes effectively, you present a negative to the quality of life in the neighborhoods. There's nothing worse than living in a neighborhood and having something in your neighborhood take away from the standard of living and the quality of life."  

If you have a junk car in your yard, you can have it picked up for by a salvage yard.