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Hundreds of abandoned properties await demolition funding

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The May 20 defeat of Au­gusta’s latest sales tax referendum had a hidden downside: cutting proposed funding for one of the city’s most pervasive problems.

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An abandoned home sits at 1612 Luckey Lane. The city currently has money set aside to raze 36 such buildings.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
An abandoned home sits at 1612 Luckey Lane. The city currently has money set aside to raze 36 such buildings.

Planning and Develop­ment Director Melanie Wil­son said she pushed for the first time to include funds for demolitions in the tax package, about $4 million that likely would have leveled nearly all the known derelict, abandoned and other nuisance properties in Richmond County.

The owners of these former homes and businesses have died, disappeared or simply given up, leaving behind a trail of unpaid taxes, vandalism, disintegration and overgrowth, accompanied by drops in neighborhood property values and a lack of interest from developers.

“If I was a businessperson coming in a new area, I don’t think I’d like (that),” said hairstylist Jackie Boone, who recently moved her shop, Naturally Jack’d, to Eve Street in Harrisburg.

Boone said she’d seen construction workers she thought were fixing up a Jenkins Street duplex. A few months later, the windows are boarded and a spray-painted skull and crossbones warns all not to enter.

Harrisburg, a former mill village, has its share of blight and abandoned properties, but the problem spares none but the newest of Augusta neighborhoods.

In all, 283 properties on 148 different streets across six ZIP codes make up the current are at some stage of the lengthy legal process required to tear them down, according to a list provided by Augusta’s code enforcement manager, Pam Costabile.

Progress toward more demolitions has been made, though the number is up from a year ago when there were 160 open cases. But without additional funding, the demolitions will stop after crews complete about 36 demolitions authorized for $200,000 by the Augusta Commission in March.

The demolitions, Phase 1 of what Wilson said was a $3 million undertaking to rid Augusta of blighted properties, are set to begin this week, according to Rob Sherman, the deputy director of the department’s development division.

Among the worst areas are the historic Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods.

Tony McClendon was cutting grass Friday at a newer home in Laney-Walker’s Hopkins Street, which has five houses on the demolition list. He said he’s grateful he lives in the Pep­pe­ridge subdivision, where only a handful of bank-owned properties are in serious disrepair.

“When I’m down here in the city, it’s ridiculous how many buildings are” nuisance properties, he said. “They’re not even boarded up. Kids come through here.”

Demolishing even the smallest building can prove costly, as each site must be tested for and cleared of hazardous material such as asbestos, which is common in older structures, Wilson said.

The typical structure costs from $5,000 to $7,000 to demolish, while larger homes can cost $15,000, she said.

Burned houses require even more work because hazardous materials must be removed by hand, bagged and disposed of differently, Wilson said.

As the cleared lots increase, “the hope is that you get enough synergy going in, having a big enough area demoed” that a developer might purchase the
site from the city land bank and return it to the tax rolls, she said.

The biggest challenge for the department is tracing ownership of the properties, which might have been passed down to heirs by owners without a will.

Even if the city completes the 283 demolitions, it has already identified 250 more structures likely to require action.

Despite the addition of code enforcement staff, it is often difficult to force an absent or impoverished property owner to make improvements to keep a property from deteriorating further, particularly in a state friendly to property rights.

“The problem is people having the money to deal with it,” Wilson said. “If no funds are available, you’re just citing someone and taking them to court.”

One of those properties could be a Parkway Drive residence that Isaiah Daniels has watched deteriorate since his elderly neighbor’s death several years ago.

At first, her heirs came by occasionally to cut the grass, but now the hedges have grown into trees and “at night, you can see all different kinds of critters in the backyard,” he said.

The property has already been through one tax sale – Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick’s approach when taxes are unpaid – but Daniels said he hasn’t seen anyone tend to the property in years, besides a city crew that cut the grass once.

INTERACTIVE: View Full Screen Map of Properties 


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redfish
675
Points
redfish 06/07/14 - 11:22 am
5
1
Here's an idea...

How about the city make Bonnie Ruben do something with the burned buildings she owns downtown? Bonnie has the money to fix up the properties but apparently doesn't care enough to do anything. If the city would condemn those properties on Broad St, I can guarantee someone would buy them and rehab them.

corgimom
33150
Points
corgimom 06/07/14 - 08:03 pm
4
4
Redfish, do you see people

Redfish, do you see people clamoring to shop downtown on a regular basis?

Nobody can keep a business going with festivals and First Friday.

Nobody wants those buildings, period. If they did, they would approach her and tell her if she fixed it, they'd be interested.

And you don't see that happening.

corgimom
33150
Points
corgimom 06/07/14 - 08:04 pm
1
5
And redfish, now that the

And redfish, now that the internet is here, it's the final death knell.

More and more people are shopping on the Net, those buildings are just plain obsolete.

corgimom
33150
Points
corgimom 06/07/14 - 08:05 pm
3
4
But how is it that the

But how is it that the Commission can spend $100,000 on an "incubator" for NOTHING, or a jazz café, but can't spend money on demolition?

They should just sell those properties to whoever wants them, for whatever somebody wants to pay, with a clause that they must demolish the blight within 180 days.

nocnoc
43382
Points
nocnoc 06/07/14 - 09:13 pm
4
0
Other cities handle this differently

The properties are told to conform to basic liveable standards or be condemned.

The owner has X # of days to show repairs are being made or be fined.

If repairs are not forth coming the property is legally condemned in 6 months as a safety and public health hazard.

The Owner is responsible for the costs of demolition and lot clearing.
If the owner pays for the demolition they still own the property (LAND).

If not the City becomes the new owner by a Tax or Public Service Fee lien and sells the Land to recover demolition costs.

WHY USE TAXPAYER MONEY?
Unless there is a profit in place for someone.

deestafford
27831
Points
deestafford 06/07/14 - 11:35 pm
1
0
nocnoc, the only problem I see with your proposal is...

nocnoc, the only problem I see with your proposal is most of the properties the owners don't want or can't pay anything at all. If the owner can be found I think what you suggest is the right course of action.

Riverman1
84888
Points
Riverman1 06/08/14 - 06:36 am
5
2
If Bonnie Ruben Left Downtown...

If Bonnie Ruben left downtown Augusta you would have a disaster. I don't see her taking county money to build a convention center on her hotel. It's good Grady Smith appointed her to the board.

rfaulk
42
Points
rfaulk 06/08/14 - 07:05 am
2
0
City workers

I guess I am confused on the expense on some of these cleanups and many other projects that need completing. Why does it cost so much to clean up the property when all you are doing is redirecting city workers from one project to another?

nocnoc
43382
Points
nocnoc 06/08/14 - 08:11 am
2
0
In EAST ST. LOUIS - 1994

While on assignment at Scott AFB and living in Fairview Height we use to ride over to East St. Louis and watch The Show, as we called it.

East St. Louis condemned City blocks of properties

They held SWAT, DOD, FED, & Fire Dept Training events charging them $$$$ to use the properties for training.

They setup SWAT type Urban Warfare events followed by, Riot suppression events and then the Fire Dept training Burns.

They cleared about 20 City blocks of Downtown Laney Walker / Old Savannah Rd area, AUGUSTA like housing off their books.

Turning some of the I64 border properties to Factory and commercial Tax Generating Lots.

harley_52
23610
Points
harley_52 06/08/14 - 08:19 am
2
1
" If the owner can be found...

... I think what you suggest is the right course of action."

What would be the penalty imposed for the owner simply refusing to pay for anything?

Isn't that the point?

They either can, or can't find the owner, but in either case the ultimate solution becomes a burden on the community. They're not going to throw them in jail. If the owners can't (or won't) pay for rehab or removal condemning the property just makes it the responsibility of the city/county.

Now that you own it, what are you going to do with it....remove it, or let it sit there as an eyesore/safety hazard?

Lori Davis
944
Points
Lori Davis 06/08/14 - 11:19 am
3
0
Three points to be made from this story

1. Rob Sherman has been over Code Enforcement 30 years. Code enforcement has NEVER been proactive but reactive thus the huge problem we have now. When properties are ignored for 30 years you will not be able to find owners.
2. For the AC to even suggest that the defeat off SPLOST is the reason that all of these properties can not be demolished is disingenuous. They are bitter over the fact that their slush fund was defeated. The,"Vote No To Splost," team spent a lot of time educating the public on what this SPLOST was really about.
3.Interesting that Melanie Wilson says,"Burned houses require even more work because hazardous materials must be removed by hand, bagged, and disposed of differently." HMMMMM……..After the man died in the Harrisburg house fire because he was living in an illegal boarding house and had no way out, the house was torn down in two weeks. I asked Rob Sherman how this was able to take place and he basically said that everything in a burned house is treated as hazardous so there is no problem tearing down right away…………So who is lying here? I love to glean things from AC stories where our city leaders lie at will, or there is selective enforcement of the code.

countyman
20225
Points
countyman 06/08/14 - 12:47 pm
1
3
The city needs to become more

The city needs to become more proactive and stop wasting valuable time..

''Redfish, do you see people clamoring to shop downtown on a regular basis? Nobody can keep a business going with festivals and First Friday.''

Multiple new businesses have opened recently downtown especially along Broad street. Retail is always the last amenity to come downtown after the jobs and residents...

''If Bonnie Ruben left downtown Augusta you would have a disaster. I don't see her taking county money to build a convention center on her hotel. It's good Grady Smith appointed her to the board.''

The Ramada Inn hotel didn't get the TEE Center, because the hotel property needs to be demolished or redeveloped..

The Ramada received 86% and the much nicer Marriott hotel received 95% in the TEE Center study...
http://www.augustaga.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/2154

corgimom
33150
Points
corgimom 06/08/14 - 01:00 pm
4
1
Countyman, get real. The old

Countyman, get real. The old retail model is gone. I shop about 99% online now, I only go to the grocery store and Walmart.

The truth is that if the demand were there, and the profit, the retailers would flock to Downtown, because they are in business to make money. The demand isn't there, and with the opening of the Outlet Mall, that will kill any thoughts of anybody going into downtown.

Your grasp of economics, business, and retailing is lacking. I would highly recommend that you take courses either at Augusta Tech or ASU.

You are so thrilled when chain retailers come to town. What you refuse to understand and accept is that those big chains kill small businesses, a small business can't possibly compete with the economies of scale and massive marketing budgets and the name recognition, inventories, and markdowns that the chain retailers can do.

And that's why there isn't any demand for retailers to come to downtown.

There is only so many retail dollars for people to spend, and the more that's added, the worse it is for downtown.

Lori Davis
944
Points
Lori Davis 06/08/14 - 01:17 pm
3
0
Augusta is the only city I

Augusta is the only city I have ever seen where a convention center is connected brick and mortar to a privately owned hotel, and I have been to MANY conventions! The Tee Center did not have to be built where it is, and there is no shuttle service there from other hotels. Yes, Billy and Paul got a sweetheart deal from ignorant or self serving Commissioners. Bonnie Ruben is not the only one with marginal properties. Wonder when the Osbon family will get the three story building torn down that burned last Fall. Let's name everyone shall we??

bigj706
1189
Points
bigj706 06/08/14 - 04:21 pm
3
0
Again what are they putting

Again what are they putting downtown besides eating places that Im only going to if I happen to be in the area. I still can't believe that Augusta and Savannah share the same river, but both cities are so different ones hip and ones excited because a hotel came in the area

countyman
20225
Points
countyman 06/08/14 - 05:05 pm
1
2
The city of Savannah has

The Clubhouse is open downtown and the ARC project is behind the renovation of the chamber of commerce.. Neither of them have anything to do with eating..

The city of Savannah has invested a lot more downtown and they do a better job of promoting.. The local media in Augusta rarely promotes anything except(Westobou, Arts in the Heart, Ironman) the major events or crime..

The residents of Savannah must be excited about their downtown growth, because they make sure to let other cities know about the new hotels.. Downtown Savannah is more trendy at the moment, but DT Augusta will have a lot more high paying jobs.. Chatham County is not more hip than Richmond County overall..

bubba2014
464
Points
bubba2014 06/08/14 - 05:00 pm
1
0
"Countyman, get real. The old
Unpublished

"Countyman, get real. The old retail model is gone. I shop about 99% online now, I only go to the grocery store and Walmart."
@corgimom - why do think just because you do things one way everybody else does the same?

bubba2014
464
Points
bubba2014 06/08/14 - 05:03 pm
1
0
"I still can't believe that
Unpublished

"I still can't believe that Augusta and Savannah share the same river, but both cities are so different ones hip and ones excited because a hotel came in the area."
@bigj706 - the difference is in who is running the city.

countyman
20225
Points
countyman 06/08/14 - 05:17 pm
1
2
Media

Bubba2014... The politics in Savannah are no better than Augusta.. I definitely not taking up for the leadership in Augusta, because were not progressive 90% of the time.

http://savannahnow.com/share/blog-post/eric-curl/2014-05-30/hotel-projec...

While cities like Charleston and Savannah did have a major head start on revitalization downtown.. There's no excuse why Chattanooga and Greenville have a much better downtown in 2014.. The media, local citizens, mayor, commission, philanthropist, etc all play their role...

Richmond County is definitely more hip than Chatham County overall, but the culture of DT Savannah crushes DT Augusta.. The city of Augusta could easily be one of the most discussed cities in the southeast if we truly revitalize our downtown.

countyman
20225
Points
countyman 06/08/14 - 05:35 pm
1
2
Retail

Corgimom... Several retailers(Puritan Candle, Bath Fitters, Flowers on Broad, Fireside Grills, etc) have already opened downtown lately and more will come in the future..

Two or three national chains opening in the CBD would actually be a good thing considering everything is mostly local..

Gage Creed
17375
Points
Gage Creed 06/08/14 - 05:51 pm
0
0
FACTS are pesky things!

Hey countyman... tell us about your outlet mall hero and his project(s) on Broughton Street in Savannah... You know those projects that are under construction and not just proposed like the Outlet Mall at the VAR?

Or maybe his outlet mall project in Pooler?

Can you quantify your "perception" of what county is "cooler" maybe you can get some reference material from Azziz... (eyeroll)

bigj706
1189
Points
bigj706 06/08/14 - 07:52 pm
1
1
Countyman that is a very true

Countyman that is a very true statement Augusta could be one of the most talked about cities. I want that for the city but I want more progressive things that everyone will enjoy and want to come to the city. Im not originally from here so when I tell my family why they should visit I want more than food (which is nice by the way), but actual activities to tell them about.

harley_52
23610
Points
harley_52 06/08/14 - 08:05 pm
0
2
"....I want more than food (which is nice by the way)....

....I want more than food (which is nice by the way), but actual activities to tell them about."

I'm curious what "actual activities" you feel are lacking in the CSRA? It's true, Augusta doesn't have high dollar venues (like an aquarium, or a zoo) in the immediate vicinity. We don't really have the tax base to afford such facilities and have a real problem getting the populace to pay for such undertakings as was recently demonstrated by the SPLOST defeat.

Frankly, my opinion is that there's plenty to do around here, though I'm sure there could be more. What specifically are you looking for that isn't here?

bigj706
1189
Points
bigj706 06/08/14 - 08:24 pm
1
1
Well you tell me what there

Well you tell me what there is to do maybe Im missing something

harley_52
23610
Points
harley_52 06/08/14 - 08:29 pm
0
1
There's Plenty To Do Here...

I don't plan to give you a list. You're the one who feels there isn't....What are you looking for, or is it just a general feeling you have about a lack of activities?

If you can't think of anything, it's fine.

bigj706
1189
Points
bigj706 06/08/14 - 08:35 pm
1
1
Well you the one who said

Well you the one who said there are things to do. Like I said when I go out theres not that much going on I didn't say it was absolutely nothing but once you do it thats it and its not just me its a common theme and not mean to bash because I figure thats why you ask but its not that much going on compared to places I visit and I see the potential to be better.

harley_52
23610
Points
harley_52 06/08/14 - 08:40 pm
0
1
Okay...

You don't know what you think is missing, but whatever it is you'd like to see it here.

Got it.

bigj706
1189
Points
bigj706 06/08/14 - 08:58 pm
1
0
Yes thats basically it. My

Yes thats basically it. My wife always said if Augusta got like a comedy club here are other shows that are mainstay so its always something going on not just a particular event.

harley_52
23610
Points
harley_52 06/08/14 - 09:24 pm
0
1
Comedy Club...

http://www.somewhereinaugusta.com/comedy.cfm

Not that I attend them all, but shows come thru Augusta all the time. Mrs. Harley and I attend them from time to time, but we're not really the "show" type. Saw a performance by a Frank Sinatra impersonator a few months ago at the beautiful Hardin Performing Arts Theatre in Evans. It was great. Seen a number of other shows visiting Bell Auditorium over the past several years. Not even to mention live plays at Fort Gordon and downtown.

In my opinion, many of these things aren't advertised well enough, but that's another issue.

bigj706
1189
Points
bigj706 06/08/14 - 10:05 pm
1
0
Hey thanks for that link me

Hey thanks for that link me and the Misses will have to check out one of those dates for a date night.

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