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Augusta makes progress in taking down blighted properties
[February 03, 2013]

Augusta makes progress in taking down blighted properties

Feb 03, 2013 (The Augusta Chronicle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- For most of its 92 years, the little white clapboard house at 1688 15th St. was home to someone. People lived there. Beds were made. Dinner was served.

The Augusta Chronicle It was inhabited by the comings and goings of everyday life.

But that wasn't the case Thursday, when a wrecking crew reduced it to a pile of rubble.

What had once been a home had become a public nuisance. The yard sat untended and overgrown. Windows that weren't already boarded over were empty sockets. Its roof was open to the sky.

It was just one among the hundreds of abandoned houses in Augusta destined for destruction.

As of January, Augusta had more than 180 open "public officer" cases -- structures on its list to be demolished and another 100 or so cases in the process of working toward that final resolution.

Augusta has been taking down these problem properties at an accelerated rate in the past three months, since Augusta commissioners approved an additional $500,000 to address the issue, according to Rob Sherman of the city's Planning and Development Department.

About 65 houses have been torn down since October and another 30 or so are under contract to be demolished, accounting for about $433,000 of that money, according to data provided by Sherman.

That's a big dent in the city's backlog of vacant buildings, Sherman said. In previous years, his budget would allow for only about 20 such demolitions, which wasn't keeping pace with the number of properties being added to the list.

On average, each demolition costs the city about $5,000.

"It has made a big difference" Sherman said. "Without that money it would have been at least a couple more years for us to demolish that many structures based on the prior funding." The house on 15th Street had a history of ordinance violations and complaints dating back to 2006.

Like many such houses in the inner city, it was being used as a rental property by owners who lived outside Augusta.

It's not clear when the house became vacant, but in June 2010, the city cited the owner, Ronald Anglin, of Stone Mountain, Ga., for unlawful dumping and overgrown vegetation. That issue was resolved within a month, but in February 2011, the property was cited again for a number of violations, including having a structure unfit for habitation and open to the public.

A year went by with the property still in violation of city codes. Anglin signed over the deed to the property to his business, Hair We Are Family Salon, also in Stone Mountain, and the city revised its complaint in March 2012.

In August, the owners -- including two other men, Rupert Huff and Samuel D. Huff -- were summoned to appear in Magistrate Court to answer for the violations.

On Aug. 16, Magistrate Judge H. Scott Allen ordered the building demolished and to have a lien placed on the property for the costs incurred.

Pam Costabile, the city's code enforcement manager, said the story of 1688 15th St. isn't unusual. Every vacant property on the city's list has a similar history of code violations and complaints, followed by notifications and court proceedings, which lead to the eventual order for demolition, she said.

Often it is difficult to determine who and where the owner is. Costabile said it is an involved process that can sometimes take years to complete.

Sherman said most of the houses on the list have little value and aren't worth repairing, even if it were possible to do so. That gives owners little incentive to take care of them and little hope of selling them to someone who might want to fix up a house for their own residence.

"The shotgun houses especially, it will be hard to put your money in them and get your money out," he said. "They don't meet a modern family's needs." An empty lot is easier to redevelop than one with a dilapidated house. As more abandoned properties are leveled, it will create opportunities for developers to bring back Augusta's most blighted neighborhoods, he said.

"Eventually we will catch up, but there is still so much of the city's old housing that is not ever going to be reused," he said.

___ (c)2013 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.) Visit The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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