Crime, codes among obstacles to revival

Sand Hills investors dismayed by snags

Jim Herring saw potential in Sand Hills.

The roughshod neighborhood is perfectly situated in the heart of upscale west Augusta. Surely, more investors would see the bargain, Herring thought as he purchased two duplexes and a house.

Reality was waiting for him Thursday afternoon when he found that someone had broken into one of the properties and cut open the walls to steal the copper wire. About 20 panels of wallboard also were missing.

What was meant to be an afternoon of fixing things up had just been stretched into more than a week of work.

"I thought the neighborhood could only go up, because of proximity to (Augusta State University), the country club, the Masters and the Hill," Herring wrote in an e-mail this week. "Unfortunately it seems every time I fix a window, two more get broke out."

In an interview, Herring said that apart from the crime, one of the problems to redeveloping rundown neighborhoods such as Sand Hills is a lack of interested property owners. Many of the houses are inherited by the grown children of the former owners, who want little do with the property until it's up for sale, Herring said.

As an example, he pointed out a burned-out house near the intersection of Mount Auburn Street and Burdshaw Lane that he had been interested in buying. Herring planned to tear it down and develop the land, but the four siblings who owned the property wanted $40,000 for it, he said.

The problem snowballed as code enforcement heaped liens and bills on it as the tax bill went unpaid and the city cut the grass. As a result, the potential buyer had to clear hurdles from the city and the owner, Herring said.

"That makes the property nearly impossible to sell because (the owner) thinks he's sitting on Grandpa's gold mine," Herring said.

Pam Costabile, Richmond County's code enforcement manager, said in an e-mail that the department sends notices to the owners of record. If it is owned by several people, "we work with them to get the issues resolved."

If the property owners refuse to cooperate or the building is "open, vacant and dilapidated," the building is taken to Public Officer Court and declared a nuisance. That opens the way for it to be demolished, she said.