City working to abate vacant houses

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When the U.S. Census Bureau completed its assessment of Andalusia last year, it estimated there were 400 to 600 unoccupied dwellings.

Abandoned houses overgrown with shrubs and vines were counted. And unfortunately, that formal accounting has inhibited the city’s quest to secure funding for additional apartment units, identified as a key ingredient needed for future growth.

City officials are working with the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning Commission to challenge the Census report. But meanwhile, a concerted effort is being made to remove houses that are uninhabitable, abatement officer Jim Locklier reported to the council last night.

Abatement is the legal process a government must use in notifying property owners of problems ranging from weeds to unsafe structures. The property owner has a specified amount of time in which to respond.

If no response is made, local governments can take steps to correct problems. For instance, if a property owner fails to address a weed problem, an entity like the city can have the property cleaned up, and the costs can be added to the property owner’s taxes.

Locklier said most of the abatement cases in the city are related to weeds.

“Many of them are habitual offenders,” he said.

If a property owner can’t repair unsafe structures, permission can be granted to the city to burn the house or demolish it. A number of structures have been burned by the local fire department, Locklier said, adding that there are others on the list to be burned.

Among those structures currently in the abatement process are Cedar Apartments, currently unoccupied and located near Church’s Chicken, he said.

Mayor Earl Johnson said, “Hardly a day goes by when people don’t comment about how Andalusia looks. It looks like this for a reason. If we didn’t stay after it, we’d look like some other places.”

• Approved a retail beer and table wine license for Food Giant Supermarkets, Inc., 550 W. Bypass.

–Michele Gerlach