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Ordinance update planned

Council to focus on problem buildings downtown

The Andalusia City Council on Tuesday agreed to retain a Birmingham attorney to assist with what has been termed a “dangerous buildings and unsafe structures” program.

The agenda item, which was circulated on social media over the weekend, drew a crowd of about 18 to the meeting.

“The City of Andalusia has had ordinance dealing with abatement of properties for many, many years,” Mayor Earl Johnson explained. “That ordinance has been amended only once that I am aware of, when Mayor (Paul) Armstrong was in office in 1994.”

The former mayor was among those in attendance Tuesday night.

In recent years, Johnson said, the legislature enacted laws which made it easier for municipalities to act on the abatement of weeds and grasses.

“The reason for that is quite obvious,” he said. “Weeds grow faster, and need to be dealt with in timely manner.

“What we always do is contact the property owner first,” he said. “We make a request first. When they are not acted on, those cases brought to council for action.”

A building abatement is a much more difficult issue, the mayor said.

“Two weeks ago, an attorney from Birmingham put on basically a seminar for the council and our staff,” he said. Referring to Ben Goldman of Hand Arendall LLC. “This gentleman specializes in this narrow area of the law, primarily with difficult abatement issues and unsafe structures.”

Johnson said the city has ordered a packet of documents from him, which it will turn over to city attorney Mark Christiansen.

“We want him to consult with this attorney on whether we need to amend our ordinance to make it a better ordinance, and thereafter participate with us to clean up some of these buildings.”

Johnson said the council will first target downtown areas.

“Once we get our ordinance in place like we want it, we will then proceed to address some of these buildings, particularly in the downtown area, we have people talking about,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he anticipates the next step to be quickly amending the current ordinances.

Before the council voted, Johnson called on local attorney John Scherf, who had asked to speak on the issue. When asked why he was serving as spokesperson, he said, “I was asked by members of the local community.”

Scherf said there has been “a lot of uproar on social media” over the issue.

“We ask that we don’t waste any time,” he said. “We ask that you keep the public aware of what’s going on.

“We realize we are not a home rule state, which makes it more difficult, and you have to abide by statute and due process. We are aware this will take time.

Scherf said “We want a gang plan, a timetable, and a reassurance that action will be taken, quite frankly before it’s too late.”

He also praised the administration for the preservation work that’s been done.

“It would be very hypocritical of me to fuss about all you’ve done,” he said, citing the current city hall, Cultural Arts Centre, and Springdale.

“But there are other parts of town I’m concerned about,” he said.

Johnson said, “That’s why we are taking action tonight. We do have to abide by the law.”

He said he has asked that city employees not deal with abatement issues with a heavy hand.

“That means it’s not always as quickly and expeditiously as we would like to do,” he said. “But it behooves us all as neighbors and citizens, not to be heavy -handed.”

Johnson added that the city has quietly facilitated removal of a number of buildings that were in disrepair.

“The owners of those properties worked with us,” he said.

In other business, the council:

• Declared two police vehicles surplus.

• Announced two openings on the Planning Commission and two openings on the Historical Preservation Authority.

• Nominated Virginia Brawner to the County Board of Equalization.