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Demolition of vacant properties halts when Augusta budget runs dry

Saturday, June 15, 2013 4:09 PM
Last updated Monday, June 17, 2013 5:35 AM
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The city has burned through $500,000 appropriated last year for the demolition of abandoned properties, which means such work will cease until the new budget year begins in January.

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This property at 2046 Walnut St. is on the city of Augusta's list of abandoned or neglected properties to be demolished.   JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
This property at 2046 Walnut St. is on the city of Augusta's list of abandoned or neglected properties to be demolished.

The money funded about 100 demolitions between October and May, helping the city chip away at its growing list of abandoned and neglected buildings.

Although the city is making progress, some say it is fighting a losing battle unless officials come up with a better plan.

A year ago, the list of problem properties had more than 300 structures. As of last week, the number was about 280. Of those, about 160 are open “public officer” cases – structures the city is seeking to demolish. The other cases are winding their way toward that status.

The process can take years.

About 23 of those cases date back to at least 2006, when the Licensing and Inspection Department started tracking these properties electronically.

The process often starts when properties are cited with repeated code violations, said Pam Costabile, the city’s code enforcement manager. Often the owners are unresponsive or absent, and the property begins to deteriorate. Trespassers might break in to the empty building, and general neglect leads to leaking roofs and structural damage that make a property uninhabitable.

Costabile said the route to establish who owns the property and to attain a court order for demolition can be derailed or detoured at any step.

“It could be a million things,” she said. “A lot of these on this list we started with the old owner and now there is another owner.”

Sometimes officials go through the process to tear down a building only to have the owners deed it to someone else or donate it to the Augusta Land Bank Authority in the last hour.

When that happens, Costabile said she tries to preserve her budget and lets the Land Bank Authority pay for its own demolitions.

Some buildings are not torn down right away because they are larger and thus more expensive to demolish. With the number of properties on the list, Costabile tries to spend no more than $4,000-$5,000 per demolition.

“There is one we want to tear down right now on (Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard), but it’s too expensive,” she said. “We don’t have the money.”

Sometimes, the owners pay for the demolitions.

This week, the owner of the old Southern Milling Co. property on Twiggs Street began such work. The old flour and feed mill, built in the 1850s, has been on the city’s list of problem properties since a fire in September 2008.

Owner Edgar Matthews said the city has wanted the site demolished and cleaned up for a while, but ongoing litigation after the fire prevented him from taking any action.

Matthews said he had asbestos removed from the mill, but that was all until this month, when a crew started taking it apart.

“We’ve been systematically taking it down and salvaging what we can, bricks mostly,” he said. “We estimated three weeks ago it will take six to eight months.”

But even as the city accomplishes one mission by demolishing old buildings, other problems emerge.

Months after the dump trucks haul debris away, nature re-establishes its foothold. Trees, weeds, vines and waist-deep grass fill many of the lots where buildings once stood.

Augusta Commission member Bill Fennoy can point out dozens of ramshackle houses within a couple of blocks of his home on Dugas Street. Many aren’t even on the list of homes to be demolished. But he thinks the neglected vacant lots are almost as bad.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but I am open to suggestions,” said Fennoy, who is frustrated by the blight and the city’s inability to maintain empty lots or force the owners to do so. “The question is do you tear down an abandoned building to create a jungle?”

Fennoy said demolishing the buildings is only a small portion of what needs to be done to redevelop Augusta’s crumbling inner city. He says it is heartbreaking to look at what were once decent, working-class neighborhoods that are now riddled with boarded-up eyesores and overgrown empty lots.

“People down here have been dealing with these issues for 50 years,” he said.

He points to the redevelopment on Pine Street, off Laney-Walker Boulevard, as a success story to be replicated on a grander scale.

He said the efforts of the city and other public and private entities working to rehabilitate other parts of the city, while laudable, are too haphazard and uncoordinated to have a sustained impact.

“The city really needs some kind of plan to address this,” he said. “The problem is we don’t have a plan.”

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Riverman1
83641
Points
Riverman1 06/15/13 - 04:55 pm
5
0
Mr. Fennoy sees the problem.

Mr. Fennoy sees the problem. Now he needs to ask why and correct those reasons.

Pops
8315
Points
Pops 06/15/13 - 06:18 pm
4
1
Gee....its sounds like

they need more money....I wonder where that will come from......

That Bill Fennoy is a real dynamo.....so caring....so concerned....

itsanotherday1
42901
Points
itsanotherday1 06/15/13 - 06:56 pm
7
1
It seems to me that a

It seems to me that a municipal goverment could pass ordinances adrressing blighted, unsafe properties, then fine the owners substantially if they refuse to abide by the law. If owners are unknown or unreachable, they should be able to auction the properties for arrears on the fines just like they do taxes. Speaking of which, who is paying the taxes? If it is no one, auction the property like they would mine if I didn't pay. If it is someone, apparently you know who to go to for collection.

allhans
23619
Points
allhans 06/15/13 - 07:35 pm
5
1
A rather high cost it appears

A rather high cost it appears to me. Who is doing the demolition?

mdhaynes
40
Points
mdhaynes 06/15/13 - 09:24 pm
10
0
Why not

use the Richmond County Fire Department to burn them down in a controlled setting? I see this working twofold. The Fire Department can use these abandoned properties for training and I'm guessing cleanup from this would be cheaper than hiring a demolition company to do it.

rt7171
73
Points
rt7171 06/15/13 - 09:25 pm
4
0
Bid it out to the lowest

Bid it out to the lowest bidder.

Little Lamb
45867
Points
Little Lamb 06/15/13 - 09:45 pm
5
1
Cheaper

MDHaynes is presuming that Augusta Commissioners want to spend taxpayer money sparingly and wisely. They have never demonstrated those traits.

itsanotherday1
42901
Points
itsanotherday1 06/15/13 - 09:58 pm
3
1
mdhaynes

One potential problem is asbestos in some of the older structures. That needs special handling before burning. Otherwise I agree, burn them down and bulldoze the rest. Dig a big hole and bury the inert remains.

TrulyWorried
14069
Points
TrulyWorried 06/15/13 - 11:01 pm
7
0
mdhaynes'suggestion

why not burn them down? There probably is not enough asbestos in there to cause any more pollution than the factories around here and the burning of these eye sores would be a one time deal. Then bulldoze it and sprinkle flower seeds or some other type of low growing fauna?
Bet it would not cost $500,000 or anywhere near there!

rational thought trumps emotion
2558
Points
rational thought trumps emotion 06/16/13 - 02:07 am
6
0
Elected Officials, please

Elected Officials, please step up to the plate.

We could easily solve this problem with a few changes. We need to strengthen our county ordinances, fine owners failing to comply, cut their grass for them if necessary and bill them accordingly. If they own other properties in the city, deny them access to county services such as trash, water, etc. if they fail to comply with our laws and do not issue permits when possible for other utilities. Do the same thing if the county is forced to demolish their property until the pay the bill for the demolition.

Once the properties are under county control, cut the grass and keep it cut preferably by working out a solution with the area neighborhood association or some other organization.

This city could look so much better if we tore down that dangerous and abandoned properties, made sure owners kept their grass cut and if we enforced many of the code enforcement laws we already have on the books. Put some strong teeth into the ordinances or CUT OFF all county services to any property they own. Get our county employees to take pride in our county, remove all of the signs all over roadways and light poles and clean up our area in general.

For the houses we are condemning and taking the property, instead maybe we should offer it to the neighbor / owner on either side for free in exchange for demolishing the property and agreeing to keep the yard maintained. After a period of 1 year, the property would then be transferred in full at no charge or for some minimal transfer fee. This would allow neighbors to have larger yards that would be maintained or for them to have the ability to build a new house for rental income that could be monitored.

Riverman1
83641
Points
Riverman1 06/16/13 - 06:11 am
7
0
Detroit City Coming Our Way?

Yep, a neat and orderly environment promotes good behavior, but money is the problem. With Detroit now telling their bondholders they will only get 10 cents on the dollar owed to them, look for cities across the country to experience tougher standards from those buying their bonds. Augusta has to get its finances and government in order.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 06/16/13 - 07:43 am
0
0
Augusta Government has no problem tearing down
Unpublished

buildings in order to build NEW STRUCTURES. Hire a planner to design plans for new construction at each and every site of demolition. The list of potential investors would be as staggering as the list of garbage properties.

Augusta is such a great place. They can't collect garbage. They can't manage bid processes. They can't control flooding. They can't find enough new construction projects for the CBD.

They can spend money like a drunk sailor on leave. They can lie like a three year old caught with jam on his face.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 06/16/13 - 07:48 am
0
0
Nothing new here folks.
Unpublished

Inner City. Inside the beltway. Decay. Loss of tax base. Welfare Centers across the country are facing the same issue.

Kick the can down the road.

More than forty years ago, property owners in Richmond County saw the tide rising. They tried to incorporate the Fleming Area. It failed as "annexation" continuously spread the cancer. First out to Gordon Hwy. Then out to Bobby Jones.

itsanotherday1
42901
Points
itsanotherday1 06/16/13 - 09:22 am
10
0
What a good way to employ

What a good way to employ some of the low skilled workers too. I could take a pickup load of those loafing around the Salvation Army on Greene, and tear down one like shown above in a day.

5 guys x 8hrs x $10/hr = $400 labor

Machinery for loading, and truck for hauling = $600 ( and that is generous)

$1000 would put that house at the landfill. EASY!

seenitB4
86829
Points
seenitB4 06/16/13 - 09:48 am
3
0
anotherday

You are making too much sense.....:)

Bulldog
1321
Points
Bulldog 06/16/13 - 09:59 am
2
0
Someone is not listening...

Several who have posted here didn't read the article, don't understand basic economics or both. A few points:
1. The taxes owed on many properties are far in excess of the value of the land. That's why many properties don't sell at the monthly auction.
2. The cost of tearing down and removing a small house while following all the LEGAL requirements regarding lead, asbestos etc. will add another $4,000 to $5,000 to the bill. Who wants to pay that?
3. After purchasing a property for back taxes, you cannot legally do anything to that property for one year until the previous owners recourse has expired. So it sits for at least another year as an eyesore!
4. Purchase of properties from the Land Bank for longer term speculative purposes is not allowed. Remove this stumbling block and you will see these properties put back on the tax roles.
5. Changes in the Georgia state law, which allow the purchase and holding of these properties for speculation are going to have to come from our state delegation. Changes in our state laws which recognize these basic economic facts must occur before anything is going to get much better.
6. The Land Bank BOD needs to come up with an innovative plan to get these properties into the hands of people who will use them for green space, community gardens or other public purposes. At least they would not be the jungles that we see today.

Darby
25524
Points
Darby 06/16/13 - 12:12 pm
3
1
A year's budget, gone in five months.

The very definition of government in action.

Augusta resident
1368
Points
Augusta resident 06/16/13 - 12:42 pm
2
0
5 Guys

Just put a 5 Guys on the vacant lots, that'll solve everything.

Sweet son
10341
Points
Sweet son 06/16/13 - 02:10 pm
1
0
allhans has a good question.

Who is doing the demolition? The next question is how are the jobs "given" to those who perform the demolition? The answer to the first question is probably Thompson. They are a local company and I'm glad that the money stays in the community. But, knowing the county's purchasing department's blunders one must wonder about how it is done. $500,000 is a lot of money!

harley_52
23207
Points
harley_52 06/16/13 - 03:29 pm
1
1
"$500,000 is a lot of money!"

Not so much if it isn't yours. A drop in the bucket if it came from taxpayers.

corgimom
32182
Points
corgimom 06/16/13 - 04:37 pm
1
0
It is no longer legal to get

It is no longer legal to get casual help to tear down a house that contains lead paint and asbestos. Any worker that works with those materials must be certified to work with those materials and must have full protective gear. Nobody deserves to die from lead poisoning or mesothelioma, not even poor people that work as day laborers. The laws changed a few years ago, it has driven the costs up astronomically. Anybody that does that, and gets caught, faces a heavy fine and prosecution.

Same thing with burning them down- you have contaminated debris left over, and that debris will contaminate the soil underneath it.

The days of renting a backhoe and knocking down an old house are over. $5000 is a fair price, that's not too much at all. Now those houses must be carefully demolished to avoid contaminating the soil underneath them, because lead and asbestos remain in the soil, and can contaminate the houses around them. There are very strict procedures that need to be followed, and those procedures cost money.

A lot of those houses were shacks from the day that they were built, they aren't even worth getting a free lot. They aren't even worth the $5000 it takes to demolish them.

The existing houses in those neighborhoods aren't any better- the idea that the owners would build rental properties on them isn't logical. If the owners had that kind of credit and money, they wouldn't be living where they are living.

Cities go through cycles, and so do city neighborhoods. To think that a city would not have any blighted areas is unrealistic. The laws of supply and demand apply- nobody wants those lots.

If there are 280 lots on the list, that means there are hundreds more properties that aren't on the list. And RC is running out of money, the supply outstrips the money available. And it's not done by any means, right now it's mostly in LW, very soon there will be many, many properties in S Augusta that will need it too.

As for Bill Fennoy, he is just continuing the work of Marion Williams- who, say what you will about him, is deeply committed to the idea that everyone deserves to live in safe, decent housing. He fought for years to have those derelict houses torn down, back when you really could just rent a backhoe and do it for just a small sum.

They could easily spend another million and it still wouldn't make a dent in the problem. This has been a problem in the last 30+ years, and it's mushrooming, not getting better.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 06/17/13 - 08:10 am
0
0
A popular TV show tears down houses all the time.
Unpublished

Jerry Springer fans love it. The Glenn Hills house was pulled down by Hell's Angels and motorcycles. So much for government regulations.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 06/17/13 - 08:12 am
0
0
Sounds like another Movin' On situation. Ultimate Answer!!
Unpublished

The baby diaper is full. Let's just Move On.

The sewers are collapsing and mix storm water with raw sewerage. Let's move on.

Incompetent leadership. Let's move on.

lifelongresident
1323
Points
lifelongresident 06/17/13 - 08:20 am
0
0
LACK OF MONEY?!?!?!?
Unpublished

it is more of "lack of Will" the idiot commissioners always "find" money for their pet projects in order to enrich themselves, but seems to be unable to "find" money to be used in the best interests of the taxpayers and law-abiding citizens...they can find hundreds of millions for the TEE CENTER and parking deck but only a paltry "half a mill" to demolish dangerous homes and NONE to build more and bigger jails to put the rats, roaches, and other "gubiment prah-jeck waste..that is because there are no "white envelopes" available to be passed from business man to commission member when allocating money to demo houses, only to build large albatrosses like the TEE CENTER

ColCo
762
Points
ColCo 06/17/13 - 08:37 am
1
0
The solution is simple...

The city should include this project in Butch Gallup's scope of work since he "participates in participating." $10 million over the last ten years would have gone a long way towards solving the problem. From what I am hearing on the streets, his new job description is corporate fundraising for Al Mason's campaign for mayor.

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