Boarding up isn't enough, city says

When it comes to bringing the gutted, sagging houses in Augusta's older neighborhoods up to par, the city can't seem to set the bar low enough for some.

 

Since March, the city has been willing to let owners of the vacant structures off the hook on building standards as long as they promise to make exterior touch-ups such as adding a fresh coat of paint and placing boards over broken windows.

Apparently, the $21 special permit to get the reprieve just hasn't been worth it. Only two property owners have used the "mothballing" provision, which was aimed at giving owners an alternative to demolition, said Pamela Costabile, the city's code enforcement manager.

It turns out even mothballing might be too cost-prohibitive.

"The ones that do call find out it costs quite a bit just to mothball," Ms. Costabile said.

Willie Anderson, 68, says he learned that when he "mothballed" a house last year on Daniel Street. Beyond the cost of the permit, he said he paid between $800 and $1,000 to hire workers to make necessary exterior improvements.

"That's not doing any repairs," said Mr. Anderson, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "That's just fixing it up" to comply with mothballing requirements.

He said the only reason he didn't demolish the house was because he planned to either live in it again one day or give it to family.

Although not many have officially mothballed, some are making efforts - just not the kind that would satisfy the city.

"Sometimes they just take it upon themselves and take it and board it up," said James Mathis, a code enforcement officer and housing inspector. But that isn't enough, he said.

Property owners often do little more than haphazardly slap boards on the windows, leaving the building unsecure and many times an eyesore, code enforcers said.

Preservationists and city code enforcers had hoped "mothballing" would catch on and improve the appearance of some of Augusta's blighted neighborhoods without destroying their historic character.

Instead, about 80 buildings were demolished last year because they were not up to code, Ms. Costabile said. About 138 await a similar demise in the courts.

Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta, said the intention of mothballing wasn't enough to change the minds of owners who weren't fixing their property in the first place.

"If it works, it could be a real good thing," he said.

A more effective solution might be in city investment of federal dollars for historic housing rehabilitation instead of "just knocking things down," Mr. Montgomery said.

MOTHBALLING: WHAT IS IT?

Temporarily securing vacant and dilapidated buildings against the elements and trespassers

Permit Requirements

- Roof must be sealed

- Windows must be covered

- Water should be turned off

- Electricity should be disconnected

- Porches, decks, balconies, fences should be repaired and protected from the elements

- All metal surfaces should be rust protected, and gutters should be cleaned

- Potential points for leaks and other water intrusion should be blocked

- Ventilation must be adequate

Source: Augusta License and Inspection Department