Originally created 07/23/01

Official calls for ordinance



Shattered, pale-blue glass litters the empty showroom window. Plywood nailed to the window frame covers the gaping hole.

The former Schneider's Music Center building, at 829 Broad St., is not unlike other abandoned downtown buildings with boarded-up windows and taped-over cracks in the glass.

Sixteen buildings on Broad Street between Fifth and 12th streets are boarded up or have damage, taken care of in makeshift ways that make them stand out among shops with carefully lettered window signs and eye-catching showroom displays.

This kind of maintenance isn't illegal, though.

Unless an abandoned building isn't secured or is considered a safety hazard, Augusta-Richmond County code enforcement does not have to worry about it, said Larry E. Lariscy III, senior housing rehabilitation specialist for code enforcement.

But there is a larger issue: the effect of the vandalized, boarded-up buildings on restoration and renovation efforts.

Julian Osbon, a developer and owner of several Broad Street properties, said the look probably does stop some people from opening businesses in the area.

"Anytime property is boarded up it does give people a real negative impression," Mr. Osbon said. "I wish we could get property owners to put displays in their windows and do things to make it more attractive."

Chris Naylor, the director of the Downtown Development Authority and Main Street Augusta, said boarded-up windows aren't the most aesthetically pleasing thing to walk by, but often it's the only way to prevent damage.

"All we can do is ask property owners to keep buildings as clean and as neat as possible," Mr. Naylor said.

One solution is to have murals painted on boarded-up windows. Mr. Naylor said he would have to get property owners' permission to start that project.

In the meantime, the group is working to bring more businesses downtown, especially to be housed in large buildings with first floors of more than 3,000 square feet. This segment has an occupancy rate of about 10 to 15 percent and makes up about 20 percent of downtown buildings.

About 80 percent of buildings covering less than 3,000 square feet are occupied, Mr. Naylor said.

The development organizations are working to bring more businesses to the downtown area, but Mr. Naylor said that takes time.

Pam Costabile, of Augusta-Richmond County code enforcement, said she would like to see an ordinance enacted giving property owners a time limit on using boards on broken windows and requiring something else be done to the building.

Pursuing the new ordinance will have to wait until other tasks have been completed, she said.

Until then, her office will continue issuing maintenance code letters when property is not up to standards.

If no progress is made to bring the property up to standards, the property owner is taken to court and can be fined as much as $1,000 and spend time in jail, Mr. Lariscy said.

If the code enforcement office notices a pattern of property damage, it inform the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.

Lt. Jimmy Young, a sheriff's investigator, could find only one incident of broken windows on Broad Street in the past few months, and that was to the city-owned Schneider's Music building.

Mr. Lariscy said he hasn't noticed an increase in broken windows but has seen more graffiti in the Ninth Street area off Broad Street.

Another downtown problem is the destruction of decorative street lamps that often are damaged by vehicles, said traffic engineer Jim Huffstetler.

The lampposts cost about $1,800 for a four-light lamp and $1,000 for a single-light lamp. Recently, there was a problem with the posts in the Ninth Street area near Laney-Walker Boulevard, Mr. Huffstetler said.

The posts were knocked down, replaced and knocked down again.

"Instead of putting them back up again, we put lights on the timber utility poles," Mr. Huffstetler said, because the city didn't want to replace the expensive posts a third time and because they were temporarily out of the posts.

Mr. Huffstetler said that his department replaces about 750 of the approximately 4,500 posts a year and that most of those are because of vehicle damage.

Augusta Mayor Bob Young said the look of Broad Street isn't preventing tenants from moving in.

"I think there is more life and vitality on Broad Street today than I've seen down there in a decade," he said.

Mr. Osbon said that when the Augusta Commons, a park and greenspace in the 800 block, is built, it should help revitalize the area and bring more people to Broad Street.

"All of it has still got a long way to go," Mr. Osbon said. "But personally, I think we'll end up with a much more interesting downtown area than what it was 50 years ago."

Reach Teresa Wood at (706) 823-3765.