Residents aim to take back Olde Town

Rick Keroglian, the president of the Olde Town Neighborhood Association, evaluates a home on Greene Street using a sheet to rate code violations. The group hopes it will help residents identify violations and provide evidence to get the city to act.

Sometimes a nuisance, such as overgrown hedges, just takes a knock on an offending neighbor's door.

But in places where a nuisance property comes from years of neglect mixed with embedded crime, it can take a whole village to solve it. And a crowbar.

Olde Town's neighborhood association is that village, and a new tool they've developed -- a Nuisance Property Rubric -- is their crowbar.

The score sheet assesses whether a property is violating Augusta codes. Olde Town resident Adam Hoover designed the user-friendly form after researching city property ordinances.

"This will let us identify a nuisance property in our neighborhood and say, 'This is our No. 1 problem,' " Hoover said. "We can bring it to the attention of government agencies as a neighborhood association, instead of as one individual getting on the phone. It's weightier."

Code violations, such as abandoned vehicles, stacks of tires, piles of trash and overdue maintenance, are on the rubric. So are nuisance behaviors, such as loitering, prostitution, drug dealing and violent behavior. Each can be rated on a sliding scale.

"I think it's a great tool. They've taken a very proactive approach," said Pam Costabile, the code enforcement manager for Augusta-Richmond County. "If you have to go to court over a property, you have to prove what's going on. That's the hardest part."

Olde Town began using the tool, which is still being refined, two months ago, said Rick Keuroglian, the president of the neighborhood association. Any Olde Town resident can ask the association to evaluate a problem property on their behalf.

"You're able to see all the codes that they're directly in violation of," Keuroglian said. "The normal person wouldn't even know what the codes are. This enables you to clearly identify and record what's going on."

Keuroglian believes most property owners will address problems voluntarily if the neighborhood approaches them. But for stubborn problems, especially those involving crime, the rubric creates an evidence file that can be passed to authorities.

A year ago, Keuroglian and Hoover worked with Augusta's Chronic Nuisance Property Task Force to dislodge a drug house from their neighborhood. They documented code violations, police calls and letters to the landlord. The task force then presented the landlords with the overwhelming evidence and the landlords evicted the tenants.

Afterward, Hoover and Keuroglian developed the rubric as a way of standardizing the process so it could be repeated, they said.

"You have to regain control of the neighborhood, street by street, block by block," Hoover said. "If a physical location is not available for drug dealing, then you push back the front."

In December 2009, Augusta explored adopting a chronic nuisance property ordinance to hold landlords accountable for tenants' bad behavior. That effort fizzled when lawyers said it would violate the state constitution.

Keuroglian, who was on the committee, said he'd still like to have that ordinance and would like to change state law to get it.

"I'm not going to wait for that, though. I don't need to wait," he said. "Why don't we enforce the ordinances that we already have? Why not give the power back to the neighborhood?

"All it takes is the numbers and enough concerned people to rise up and say, enough is enough. We're going to take back the neighborhood."

Reach Carole Hawkins at (706) 823-3341, or carole.hawkins@augustachronicle.com.