On a day when the Mobile City Council declared 11 nuisance properties, a couple that weren’t on the list might’ve been the most talked about.
The council’s declaration starts a 10-day clock ticking, before a lien is placed on the blighted properties and they scheduled for demolition. This process only occurs after everyone legally attached to the properties has been notified and given 45 days to respond, Deputy Director of Property Maintenance David Daughenbaugh said.
During a pre-conference meeting, councilmen John Williams and Levon Manzie took issue with the slow progress of the process, claiming each had citizens that had complained about properties in their districts for years.
Williams asked why a house 1268 Belle Chene Drive hadn’t yet been declared a nuisance, even though parts of the structure were falling apart.
“My thing is it’s going to fall on another property,” he said. “There’s a difference between a one-story building with some tall grass and a building that’s falling down.”
Williams said he would prefer the city take a “midnight bulldozer” approach by identifying the properties in the worst condition and dispatching them first. He also suggested setting money aside in case a property owner wants to be reimbursed, or sues the city.
“We can identify ‘oh my God’ kind of problems and really put it on a fast track,” he suggested. “If you go out there and say ‘we can’t wait,’ why are you leaving it up? What’s the purpose of leaving a collapsing building up?”
Daughenbaugh said the property central to Williams’ complaint is not in bad enough shape to be considered an emergency. He said parts of the front porch and carport are collapsing, but for fast-track demolition, the entire structure has to be on the verge of collapse. Daughenbaugh also said the Belle Chane Drive house is about halfway through the 45-day notification period, meaning it should come up for a vote of the council in a month or less.
At issue for Manzie was the upkeep of Oaklawn Cemetery. He said resident complaints about the cemetery pre-date his time on the council and he asked the city to look into it.
“This has been a great concern … to residents there for years,” Manzie said. “Those residents shouldn’t have to deal with that in their environment.”
The issue with the cemetery is it is privately owned and each plot is owned by family members of the deceased. Resident Lucy Smithsaid many of those buried have family living out of town and therefore have no one to maintain the plots. In addition, she and Manzie said a judge had ordered the cemetery owner to maintain the rights-of-way, but Smith said it “is not being done.”
While there are restrictions on how the city can intervene on private property, city attorney Ricardo Woods said they would look into legal action against the owner to see if they could get the cemetery cleaned up.
Council attorney Jim Rossler told councilors he would be interested in looking at a way to streamline the process. He said he wouldn’t propose changes to the notification process, but would look into laws allowing the city to take control of properties with multiple liens and sell them on the open market.
In an email newsletter, Mayor Sandy Stimpson applauded the city’s Bloomberg Innovation Team for using the social media application Instagram to count blighted properties. Over the course of two weeks, municipal enforcement officers counted 100 blighted properties.
From there, Stimpson wrote, the city’s GIS department created an application to help pinpoint the exact location of blighted properties. The application helped officers find 1,256 properties in six days.
Mardi Gras Park
The council approved all the contracts to allow work to begin on the first phase of a proposed Carnival-themed park on the vacant, County-owned square bounded by Church, Royal and Government streets downtown, adjacent to Mobile County Probate Court.
Work had to begin before Thursday, or a lease on the property between the city and county would expire. Stimpson told reporters that a groundbreaking would take place tomorrow.
The plan for the first phase of the park, includes added parking, benches, landscaping and statues devoted to Mardi Gras. The second phase will include a pavilion which could be reserved for events, similar to New Orleans’ French Market.