Frustrated by the number of overgrown and dilapidated properties, the Columbia Board of Aldermen is looking for ways to address the problem.
During discussions on properties around the city with Building Inspector Lonnie Stringer, the Board expressed frustration in the city’s ability to make owners clean properties or have city crews clean or demolish them.
Ward 2 Alderman Jason Stringer asked City Attorney Lawrence Hahn what legal rights the city had in regards to the properties.
“Is there no other avenue we can go down other than just cleaning it and assigning it to their taxes?” he asked. “We’ve got to give them some incentive to clean their place up. Lawrence, do you have any suggestions on what we can do to get these people’s attention? Because what we’re doing is not working.”
Then Ward 1 Alderman Wendell Hammond inquired about fines.
“Every time you mow it, you’re assessing more costs on the taxes,” Hahn said. “It’s like a fine because it’s increasing their taxes and if they don’t pay their taxes, somebody buys it or it goes back to the city. Outside of maybe doing something in Chancery Court, but I’m not sure you could do that, I don’t know what a solution would be.”
Mayor Justin McKenzie asked about toughening ordinances regarding property owners keeping the areas clean. Hahn said the Board could examine it.
Ward 4 Alderman Mike Smith said some property owners complain when told to clean up.
“Some of them tell us that we can’t tell them how to keep their grass or their property,” he said.
Stringer said that many neighbors don’t know who owns the lots or abandoned homes next to them.
“I’m pretty sure that a neighbor would have standing to file a lawsuit,” Hahn said.
“It’s just so frustrating,” Stringer said. “You feel like your hands are tied.”
The Board discussed a property where a house had been torn down at the corner of White and Mobley streets and expressed concern.
“There is too much debris to go in there with a mower,” Alderman-at-Large Edward Hough said. “You would have to go in there with a weed eater. You wouldn’t dare take a bush hog there; you might hit a gas pipe or send debris flying.”
The property, owned by Billy Pierce, was discussed for several minutes by Board members. According to neighbors, the house was torn down earlier this year.
“Lonnie tries to bring in one or two properties from each ward each time,” Hahn said. “If you tried to put everything together, you couldn’t even begin to administrate it.”
McKenzie said the problem is frustrating for the city.
“We end up mowing properties all over town,” he said. “If you want to own property in the city, you should have to live up to the standards. You look at any subdivision and if you live there, you have to live up to their standards.”
Hahn said Stringer had made a concerted effort to get property owners to clean and mow sites across the city.
“Lonnie gets a lot of people to clean their properties,” he said.
The Board voted to send Pierce a letter to mow and clean the property. The Board also discussed more than a dozen other properties in the city. Stringer reported that properties located at 816 East Ave. 900 Church St., 921 Oak Ave. and 1711 Main St. had been cleaned. The Board will take bids on a demolition on a property at 410 Browns Ave. and discussed options for 933 West Ave. and sent letters for cleanup to properties located at 904 Park Ave., 1216 Bell St., 321 Hawkins Ave., 806 Beauvoir Ave. and 109 Dewey St.