By Ben Kleppinger
10:38 AM EST, January 9, 2013
STANFORD — The city of Stanford is planning to take action on several dilapidated properties in its city limits, including an empty house with a leaning chimney.
Stanford Mayor Bill Miracle and City Attorney John Hackley told city council members Jan. 3 some deteriorating properties around town could be fixed up or made safer by the city, using the power of its nuisance ordinance.
Miracle and Hackley toured 11 properties in Stanford that were potentially causing problems and found two in need of immediate intervention, Hackley said.
Miracle said the city fire department is planning to remedy the most dangerous structure — an empty house on Eastwood Drive with a chimney that is separating from the main structure and leaning outward — by the end of this week.
Hackley said the other property he would recommend immediate action on is one along Harmon Heights that suffered a fire and has never been restored or demolished.
"That thing I think is clearly a fire threat," he said. "There's nothing of value there — everything is half-burned."
The city's nuisance ordinance allows the city to take action to remedy anything declared a public nuisance, including unsafe buildings that pose fire threats.
Under the nuisance ordinance, an owner must be given five days to fix a fire hazard before the city can take action. The city mailed a letter to the owner of the Eastwood Drive house on Friday, Miracle said.
Once the five-day waiting period is up, the fire department plans to knock down the leaning chimney, he said.
The city can file a lien against a property for the cost of remedying a public nuisance.
Hackley cautioned the city against taking action against any properties for purely aesthetic reasons, encouraging use of the nuisance ordinance to address mainly fire hazards.
"There are a lot of these houses that are just missing a couple coats of paint," he said. "I don't think our ordinance addresses that."
But grass that has grown to more than a foot tall is designated a public nuisance and does present a fire hazard, he added. The city can come in and mow unkempt lawns when that happens.
Hackley recommended the city monitor the nine properties that don't need immediate attention and begin mowing them in the warmer months.
If the city has to mow a lawn, the nuisance ordinance allows it to file a lien against the property for the cost of the mowing.
Miracle said while the city can file liens on properties for the cost of its work, there's no guarantee the city will recoup those costs in the end, so it must be careful to make sure it can afford to fix up a house whether or not it gets money back.
City Councilman Eddie Carter cautioned against getting too trigger happy with the nuisance ordinance.
"$3,000 here, $4,000 there and we could be out a lot of money before you know it," he said.
Miracle said the main benefit of using the nuisance ordinance to clean up and maintain neglected properties is maintaining property values in the city.
Lincoln County Property Valuation Administrator David Gambrel confirmed dilapidated structures can affect the value of neighboring properties.
Just such an issue is "a problem all over the county," he said. In many cases, empty properties fall into neglect through no fault of the previous residents, but simply because people are struggling with money in the current economy, he added.
Miracle said he will be working with Fire Chief Scott Maples on the next course of action to take with the fire-damaged Harmon Heights property.