'Nuisance property' in Harrisburg is shut down

Violations of code lead to city's action

The Harrisburg rental property that mayoral candidate Lori Davis called a "known neighborhood drug house" when she sued its landlord this year is being shut down by code enforcement after inspectors paid a visit and found a family living in squalor.

At a court hearing in May, insurance salesman John B. Weigle Jr. testified that he knew nothing about any drug dealing going on at his property at 223 Eve St., that he wouldn't mind his tenants living next door to him and that he checked on the house frequently.

City inspectors checked this week and found a family living there without electricity or running water, with buckets of urine inside, feces in the backyard and roach eggs throughout the premises, according to Code Enforcement Manager Pam Costabile.

"The house in its current state is unsanitary," Costabile said in an e-mail, "and we are going to require that it be vacated, repair work done on (the) building and cleanup of the premises."

No evidence of drug-dealing or use was found, Costabile said, but she noted she is not qualified to do that kind of search.

The yellow bungalow at Eve and Ellis streets, two blocks from the Kroc Center construction site, has played heavily into Harrisburg activists' fight against drug peddlers and deadbeat landlords -- which started with a protest march July 4, 2009, included demonstrations outside Weigle's home and workplace, and culminated in Davis' current bid for the mayor's seat.

Earlier this year, she filed a small-claims case against Weigle over his management of the property, but she lost.

Davis complained to code enforcement Monday that an extension cord was running into the house from another house two doors down. Costabile and two other inspectors went there the next day and warned tenants at both ends of the cord that what they were doing was illegal.

A woman lives at Weigle's property with her three teenage grandchildren and two brothers, one of whom is sick, Costabile said. She told the inspectors that she had been hospitalized for three weeks and her utilities got cut off.

On Wednesday, several men sat on the front porch, the windows and front door open, when tenant Rebecca Tanksley pulled up riding in the passenger seat of her son's minivan. Wearing a mask over her mouth, she told The Chronicle she had nothing to say about the situation. Her son said she had just had some teeth pulled.

The men on the porch also said they had nothing to tell the newspaper, though one did say they were trying to clean up. Ms. Tanksley's son said he didn't think it would help because the rear part of the house was in such poor shape.

In the backyard, trash had been raked into a pile and furniture had been stacked on a rickety porch, near a stray grocery cart and a satellite dish.

City inspectors also found broken windows, a sagging ceiling, a leak in a bathroom, and windows and doors blocked by furniture and junk, causing a fire hazard. Costabile said she has spoken to Weigle and that he said he would address the problems right away.

The house has to be vacated first. Costabile said she has tried to find the family a place to go, but because the Augusta Housing Authority has no vacancies in public housing, she hopes Weigle can accommodate them.

They have until the end of the week to be out of the house.

"It's just unhealthy for them to be in there," Costabile said. "There's no way for them to be able to go to the bathroom, cook or do anything."

Weigle has so far declined to speak to The Chronicle about the house and did not return a message left at his office Wednesday.

Davis has tried to talk to him, too, sending a certified letter more than a year before the first protest, and trying to arrange meetings through relatives and intermediaries.

"If he would have just come to the table with us in Harrisburg, it would never have come to this point, but he refused," she said. "A decent landlord would have come to the table and helped with a situation like this."

A chronic nuisance properties ordinance could have solved the problem, she said. Davis was part of a study committee that chose instead to fund a Neighborhood Task Force, a recommendation the Augusta Commission has yet to implement.

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Neighbors protested 223 Eve St.

Harrisburg activist and mayoral candidate Lori Davis has called 223 Eve St. a "known neighborhood drug house," though it's never been classified as such by police or through criminal charges.

When the Concerned Citizens of Harrisburg staged its first protest march July 4, 2009, Davis said the house was among those generating the most complaints to the neighborhood association, with men who don't appear to live there milling about outside, making cell phone calls and waving down cars. Cars with out-of-county and out-of-state plates come and go, she said.

Davis hammered a "nuisance property" sign in the dirt out front during the first march, and the activists group later picketed outside Weigle's home in Forrest Hills subdivision and in front of his workplace, Dawson Taylor & Co., on Wheeler Road.

In March, Davis filed a small-claims complaint against Weigle, part of an effort to prove the city needs a chronic nuisance properties ordinance. To back up her allegations of drug activity, she called Charlotte Ginn, the children's pastor at Harrisburg's Bible Deliverance Temple, as a witness.

Ginn described how she, Pastor Kelly McKnight and his wife once passed by the Eve Street house and saw a woman who rented a unit from the church's Another Chance Ministry Network homeless outreach. She was "looking sick," broke down and cried in the church office when confronted, and flunked a drug test, Ginn said.

Richmond County Magistrate Court Chief Judge William D. Jennings III ruled in Weigle's favor in the case, saying Davis failed to prove that he owes her $5,000 because of his management of the property.

-- Johnny Edwards,

staff writer

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