Double Springs eyesore properties debated

DOUBLE SPRINGS    -  The Double Springs Town Council was about to adjourn its regular session March 12, when disagreements among council members came to light over how to deal with eyesore properties in town.
Mayor Elmo Robinson was calling upon each council member sitting around the table to make any comments before adjourning  when Hobby Walker spoke out in reference to comments made at a previous council meeting by Council Member Andy McSpadden about property Walker owns.
“I want to clarify  an issue that was brought up at the last meeting,” Walker began. “I’ve been trying to get our town cleaned up. You can’t see houses for the bushes.
“Also, we have buildings falling down, but the issue brought up was the front of my store,” Walker said. “The front of my store is on the road from the highway.”

Walker was referring to his business off Highway 278 near the intersection of Highway 195. “I have a huge field in front of my store that joins the highway,” Walker pointed out. “The front lawn of my store, I keep cut and weed eated.
“I keep my driveway cut,” Walker continued. “I have been in contact with our state highway department for over 20 years now, making sure they get that grass cut because it is on a state right-of-way.
“Now, I don’t know if you know what being on a state right-of-way means. First of all, you can’t do anything on that property. That’s why you see these big bushhogs going down the side of the road with these tractors cutting grass. That’s because they are on state right-of way,” Walker noted.
Walker stated that sometimes the state cuts the right-of-way and other times they do not.
“I bring my tractor and my bushhog  to my house and I bushhog about five acres down there,” Walker stated.
“I am not talking about that,” Walker then stated. “I am talking about yards and buildings. I am not talking about fields. I just wanted to get that straight.”
Turning to Council Attorney Jeff Mobley, seated beside him, Walker asked where was the ordinance concerning how to deal with nuisance properties that Mobley was supposed to bring for the town council to consider.
“I will try to get that to you next meeting. I apologize,” Mobley responded.
“What happened to this one?” Walker asked Mobley.
“Well, I didn’t think about it,” Mobley responded. “If someone doesn’t call me at work...”
“You know I’ll call you,” Walker interjected.
“Seriously, call me and remind me and I’ll get it to Kim (Ownby, town clerk) and she can get it in your packet,”  Mobley said.
Walker then requested that Ownby email council members a copy of the upcoming meeting agenda on the Friday before their Monday meeting.
“Where we will have over the weekend to go over them,” Walker stated. “We never know what’s on there until we get here.
“I think most towns are doing that,” Walker continued. “I know Haleyville is. That is going to give us time to look  at it instead of hearing about it at the time we vote on it.”
“I can send out what I have on Friday,” Ownby responded. ““I don’t do my agenda until the day of  (the meeting) because of the stuff that happens that day.”
“Can you not do it the Friday before?” Walker asked.
“I can send it Friday,” responded Ownby, “But there may be extra stuff on it Monday.”
“You’ve got to do a cut-off date,” Walker then responded.
McSpadden then responded to comments Walker had earlier made.
“Well, Hobby, as far as the grass thing, I was just using it for an example,” McSpadden said. “I just want us to be careful if we do anything  because that is a big deal.”
Council member Tim Cockrell told Walker, “I can go along with you on the buildings, for sure.  I am 100 percent with you on the buildings.  I know some of them look terrible. I agree with  you on that.
“But what’s the protocol for it,?” Cockrell asked.
Resident Neal Nielsen, who was seated behind Walker, spoke out, saying the town needed a zoning officer.
“You normally have someone that,” Nielsen began.
Walker then passed out to each council member a copy of the master plan compiled about 14 years ago by the Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments concerning the Town of Double Springs.
“It states exactly what I am trying to do for the town,” Walker said. “It’s stating how we can bring more businesses in here and how we can get our population to grow.”
Walker noted he had been in touch with officials in the past who had informed him the Town of Double Springs was not large enough to accommodate what Walker had planned to do, he informed council members.
“This master plan has been in existence for years,” Nielsen stated.
“That was an in-depth study of NACOLG,” Walker said. “That study was made 14 years ago, and I assure you our town has not gotten any better.  We need to do something on this or forget it,” Walker pointed out.
“We’re not a big city,” stated council member Brittney Tucker. “We’re a small town. I would like to see what other towns our size,  what is their protocol?”
“My biggest thing is cleaning it up,” Walker responded.
“I am all for cleaning,” Tucker said.
“We have junk yards in people’s yards out here,” Walker stressed.
McSpadden spoke out, “I just want us to be careful.”
McSpadden said he knows of a community that is restricted from doing anything without first obtaining a permit to build.
“They’ve got to go grease the guy’s palm to get it approved half the time,” McSpadden pointed out.
“It’s places that are just so obvious. When you can’t see a house, that’s obvious,” Walker responded.
“I think we’re all in agreement on that,” McSpadden responded. “We need to do something to those houses. I am not against it. I am just saying I want us to take our time and get it right the first time instead of having to come back later and change it and we’ve made a mess.”
“You don’t want it to where we have to get permission to get permits to do things in our own yard,” Tucker added.
“I don’t want (Kim Ownby) to go around with a tape measure and measure everybody’s yard,” McSpadden began.
Walker noted the places to which he was referring were fire hazards.
“We have a full-time fireman that’s not going to cost anything to go around to these places  and give them notices,” Walker pointed out.
 Cockrell asked what the town should do in a situation where a house is falling in, but located in an otherwise  really good subdivision.
“How do you go about telling that person you’ve got to put some money in that house to tear it down or fix it, and you are low income?” Cockrell asked.
Walker suggested if the owner refuses to do anything about an eyesore property, give the owner a certain amount of time to clean up their property.
“We could clean it up and put a lien on it, until they pay for it,” Walker said. “You’ve got to do something.”
McSpadden said he agreed with Cockrell that if a person was on a fixed income, how could they be evicted from their property and where would they go.
“We couldn’t just do for one and not for the other,” McSpadden told Walker.
Mobley then gave legal advice on what could be done in such situations.
“If the city condemns a piece of property, in other words, they make a decision it is a hazard, that it constitutes a nuisance, and they give them (the property owners) a notice and tell them to clean it up, if they don’t clean it up, then the city ordinance can be written in a way that the city will come in and either contract to do it and pay the contractor, or they come in and do it themselves.  Then you give those people so long to pay for what you paid to do it.
“It’s a city lien,” Mobley continued. “You give them so long to clear the lien. If they don’t clear the lien, then the lien remains on the property, and when it ever sells, your money comes off the top.
“Or,” Mobley said, “you condemn the property. You put what is owed (and) is charged as an additional tax on their property tax. If they don’t pay the whole amount in the year that it’s assessed, then the property is sold for taxes.”
Walker added, “You’ll be doing these people on fixed incomes a favor by getting it cleaned up because that is a health hazard to them.”
“But if they have nowhere else to live, what are you going to do then?” McSpadden asked.  “If you do that, then that person has nowhere else to go.  Are they going to come live with you?” McSpadden asked Walker.
“Andy, there is no law perfect,” Walker responded.
“I know that,” responded McSpadden. “I have a hard time kicking somebody out of their house and that’s all they can afford.”
Mobley interjected he would provide information to the council on options available under the law he earlier described and to check with other smaller towns to see what their ordinances are.
“If you are doing it under, where you are remediating a nuisance, then I think it’s allowed,” Mobley stated. “In other words, you are not going on private property to do work on private property to benefit the owner.
“If you are going on the property to remediate a nuisance, then I think you can put a lien on the property and get your money back,” Mobley said.
“You have to have an ordinance passed that gives you the authority to,” Mobley stated.
“We can’t just send a letter out requesting they clean up their property?” Tucker asked.
“You can,” Mobley responded.
Before the council adjourned, Robinson advised there would not be a problem with sending out the meeting agenda to council members the Friday before the meeting.
The Double Springs Town Council meets on the second Monday of every month at 6 p.m. at Double Springs Town Hall.


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