Property clean up long process in city

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 13, 2003

They dot Brookhaven’s landscape like festering sores, butabandoned properties do get healing hands, according to cityofficials.

Some residents think the city doesn’t pay attention to theirconcerns about abandoned properties, which can become more than aneyesore. They also breed pests, such as mosquitoes and mice, and,in severe cases, pose a health hazard.

Steve Moreton, building inspector, said it’s often a longprocess for residents to wait before the city can begin cleaning upthe property, and he understands how it can be frustrating.

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“There are a lot of vacant lots in Brookhaven,” he said. “It’svery time-consuming.”

Moreton said the property is owned privately, and the citycannot just step in without approval or following certain laws. Sixto nine months is about the quickest a resident can expect to seeaction, he said, and that is a matter of timing.

The first step, Moreton said, is to report the property to thedistrict’s alderman, who makes a list of all reported property. InJuly or August, the alderman meet and compile their lists intoone.

Once Moreton is given a complete list, he is required to send acertified letter to the property owners requesting they attend apublic hearing in September or October to address propertyconcerns.

Moreton said he mailed out about 40 such letters this year.

“Some of them have already been taken care of,” he said. “We getto what we can. I don’t go after occupied houses. I go fordilapidated or abandoned property. We don’t go after propertythat’s never had any development on it.”

Property owners have 30 days after the public hearing to cleanup the property themselves.

“Many comply before the public hearing or by the time we canwork on them,” Moreton said. “What’s left is usually demolishing ahouse.”

If the property is not cleaned up, he said, the city can go inand do the work. They bill the property owner the accepted rate forthe work. If the bill is not paid, the city then places a lien onthe property.

However, snags can often delay the process. Many of the propertyowners live out of town or out of the state, or there are legalconstraints on what can be done with the property, such as whenheir property is in dispute.

Some of the delays can be lengthy.

Willie B. Brice Sr. said he has been waiting for 20 years forsomeone to clean up the property next to his house on SouthWashington Street. Recent storms caused one of the structures onthe land to collapse, and a portion of a wall fell in his backyard.

“I used to cut bushes and everything to try to keep bugs andother things from coming into my yard and house. I’m tired of it,”he said.

Brice said he decided some time ago to “wash his hands” of thewhole thing.

“I ain’t going to have nothing else to do with it,” he said.

Brice’s long-awaited wish seems to be coming true now, though,according to his wife Marie.

“Someone’s cleaning it up now,” she said. “It’s a slow process,but they’re working on it. So far they got the front part of itopened up.”

She said work on the property began just before Christmas, butworkers are not there every day to remove trash, debris and partsof an old home that has collapsed.

“I’m glad to see something is finally being done there,” shesaid.

The actual clean up of property, Moreton said, usually occursthis time of year because city crews have more time to work on themwithout impacting their direct duties. Property clean up usuallybegins in January and lasts through February.