Aldermen mulling new standards for residential areas

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2009

With the beautification and maintenance of Brookhaven always agoal of the board of aldermen, one city official Tuesday night madea pitch toward trying to stop the deterioration of R1neighborhoods.

Ward Six Alderman David Phillips said during a public hearing onlot cleanups that oftentimes the lots in need the most attention inR1 property areas are rental property. He said an ordinance toaddress rental property standards would benefit the city because itwould be a start in setting upkeep guidelines for homes all overthe city.

“I don’t know how to build pride in ownership,” he said. “I getcalls asking me why we can’t do something about some of these lots,and I just don’t know how to answer that.”

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Phillips prepared a PowerPoint presentation outlining theconsequences of not having an ordinance, the concerns ofimplementing an ordinance and the results of a rental propertymaintenance ordinance in an R1 district. R1 property is forsingle-family housing.

Among the consequences, Phillips pointed out the continueddeterioration of R1 neighborhoods and falling property values, notto mention frustration of homeowners who are unable to protecttheir property value. He said the homeowners also get frustratedwhen the city is seemingly powerless to improve the situation, andall these things could end up in their moving out of theneighborhoods.

Phillips said while talking about the concerns that morepersonnel would probably need to be hired for the city buildinginspector’s office if certain measures were taken, like who shouldmaintain a database of ownership on R1 rental property. He said theproject could potentially need a system for registration andinspection compliance and a schedule for registration andinspection for problem properties.

“We keep dumping responsibilities on him, and he ends up wearingso many hats,” he said.

Phillips said that increased maintenance could raise rentalrates. But, he said, the positive results of an ordinance could faroutweigh the negatives of instituting one.

In addition to improving quality of life and easing citizenfrustration, it would give city officials a way to respond tocomplaints and make a landlord accountable for maintenance in atimely manner. The city would also have a database of owners thatcould be easily accessed and the ability to impose fines and chargefees for noncompliance.

Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates said he’d like to see a propertystandard established not only in R1 neighborhoods, but R2 and R3 aswell. Those property designations are for multi-family housing andzoning laws governing them are less restrictive that those for R1property.

“We’ve got these problems all over town, and it’s a shame howsome of this property looks,” he said. “Some people out there couldeasily fix up their property but they don’t because we don’t haveany way to make them. They’re just going to sit around and donothing and talk about us, so I think we should give them somethingto talk about us for.”

Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell said he likes the idea of anordinance, but he is unsure of the inspection part of the plan.

“I’m not for the inspection thing,” he said. “I think it wouldbe good to have an ordinance that would affect all types ofproperty. If we have a complaint, then we have an ordinance that wecould fine those people if they don’t clean their property in atimely manner. I’d be all for that.”

Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes said an ordinance would takethe pressure off city officials to hunt down bad lots and locatetheir owners and ask them to maintain their property.

“Am I a policeman? We’re having to police these neighborhoods,”she said. “This is a good idea because there are a lot betterthings we could be doing than policing.”

In the following regular board meeting, Mayor Bob Massengillassigned a committee of Alderman at Large Les Bumgarner, Ward ThreeAlderwoman Mary Wilson and Bates to serve under Phillips to work onan ordinance to prevent the deterioration of the neighborhoods.City Attorney Joe Fernald was also assigned as an ex officiomember, and Massengill gave Phillips permission to assign someplanning commission members to the board as well.

“The purpose of this is to stop deterioration in these R1neighborhoods, and I think we have to start somewhere,” Phillipssaid. “R1 rental property is a good place because there’s not atremendous amount of it, but it deteriorates and destroys theseneighborhoods if it’s not maintained.”