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One Obstacle In Getting Atlanta To Address An Eyesore Lot Is, Well, Lack Of An Address

One Inman Park mom's mission to clean up a nuisance lot.

by Elizabeth Keathley

This year, I’m going to attempt to do something really difficult to improve our neighborhood. I’m going to try and get an address assigned to the illegal dump next to my house. Without an address, there is no process in Atlanta for citing, fining, or enforcing current zoning and codes regulations on a piece of property.

A little background: My condo complex sits on a parcel of land that fronts Dekalb Avenue in Atlanta. Fifteen years ago, Dekalb Avenue was mainly an abandoned and decaying row of former industrial sites facing the railroad line. Thanks to developments like ours, Dekalb Avenue is now a high-density residential area of condos, apartments and lofts. When we bought our home, we were close to many urban brown lots, including a large abandoned gasworks that has now become the thriving Edgewood Retail District. We love our neighborhood, and every other house or condo has children. What was once urban blight has become an active community with lots of active kids.

Still, some eyesores remain along Dekalb Avenue. One of those is right next to my house, and has been the source of many, many, long meetings with neighbors and the city. I’ve been posting pictures of the illegal dumping there for over three years now. Last year I and a few neighbors made it our New Year’s resolution to get the three rotting trailers on the lot removed. After enlisting the help of our city council member Kwanza Hall and hundreds of hours of phone calls and emails, the trailers were removed in June and the . The trailers had been on the property more than 10 years illegally. 
We were able to do this because the lot is actually two parcels — one that fronts Haralson Avenue (the upper third acre) and one with no road access (the lower third acre).

Of course, the landowner dumped chemical barrels on the property within a week of that fine. It took another five months and more intervention from our city council member to get him to remove those. Still, victory! Six months for one complaint, five months for the next.

Yet the back, unaddressed, lot remains an illegal dump. Now that it’s winter and the kudzu has died back a bit, I walked the land and took some pictures of some of the junk that lays back there. The walk is tough even at this time of year, with deep unexpected pits, layers of kudzu, and loads of buried construction trash. With lots of children around, I’m always worried someone will get hurt. Neighbors on the other side of the lot have to deal with the rats that breed in the trash, and others often experience water issues related to drainage. The property is a hazard, but until an address is assigned, no one seems to know how to get violations cited. The landowner knows this and dumps at will.

Part of the problem is that the lot was once considered to be part of the parcel where our condos stand. Twelve years ago, the landowner was given permission to build 36 units on what was then a full acre of land. Rather than spacing the units out, he built all 36 as close to the road as possible, figuring he could get more permissions later. Unfortunately, the sewer, drainage, and road systems in our neighborhood can’t support more building in this spot. As the years went by, our condos fully sold and split from the landowner. The unbuildable lot had many different plans proposed for it, but the landowner was never reasonable about what he wanted. He always failed to accommodate the water drainage, or the traffic needs, or had some unrealistic expectation about how many units could be built in that space. In the mean time, he used the land as a dump for waste from his other construction sites. And the kudzu grew, and time passed, and all the neighbors built big fences so the lot would just be out of view. And here we are today, in 2012, with a lot of trash and literally no address for the problem. There’s no street to this lot, and there never will be. Drainage problems persist, leading to mosquitoes, rats, and worse.

Wish me luck on getting codes enforced on the lot, and take some time to review the pictures I post, if you’re interested. There’s a new head of codes and zoning, and she’s reduced the standing number of complaints in the city of Atlanta down from more than 4,000 to less than 2,000. So I have hope that something can be done this year. If you’re interested in helping, let me know. Maybe one day the kids can play kickball back there. Right now, it's way too dangerous, with all the weird pits, rusty metal, and broken glass.

And again, thanks to Kwanza Hall on city council for paying attention to this problem. It takes many people and a lot of effort to get a clean-up like this to happen.

Ms. Keathley is an Inman Park resident.

Molly Maxwell January 15, 2012 at 04:39 PM
have the city take it under imminent domain, clean it up and make it a community victory garden
E Keathley January 15, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Molly, that would be so fabulous, and many neighbors would support a community garden in this spot. I haven't heard of Atlanta taking a vacant lot with imminent domain before, though. Have you any experience with this process?
Péralte Paul (Editor) January 15, 2012 at 05:05 PM
It's not easy and the the city historically doesn't like doing that - or the state for that matter - so it's not likely.
Molly Maxwell January 15, 2012 at 06:17 PM
well I would look at getting the tax records for the property owner, is he not paying taxes on it? if it is part of the parcel with the buildings then use code to hit the whole thing. If not publish his name and a way for people to personally hold him responsible for his mess. There have to be answers to what to do with it. If the city doesn't have an address for it how are they taxing it? Is it lost tax revenue? Write the Governer's office and complain, Start with the People at the top, Elections are coming up, work on the candidates and make them aware of the issue. Sign a petition from all the neighbors put a little blip by each name and ask them to check if they are a registered voter. Sometimes you just have to be a very loud wheel and a pain the behind, have someone each week write a letter to the editor of the local paper, a rant. Enough letters come in and enough published on the matter changes will start to happen. Wish I was up there to help. I do the same thing here as we are trying to get sustainable living to have chickens in the county and city. Best of luck and keep looking for options , and give them a plan of what to do with the property to make it productive for the community at large.
E Keathley January 15, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Thanks, again, Molly. I have been publishing pictures of the trash along with the property owner's name for three years at http://tinyurl.com/finklot I had some research done on the lot last November and taxes were up to date at that time. Public embarrassment hasn't worked. In fact, one of the landowners sits on the board of the Mount Paran-Northside Civic association, which is dedicated in part to keeping their side of the city nice. Her name is Rita Fink, and along with her husband, Gene Fink, they are the sole owners of Urban Communities LLC, the name on the deed of the place. The plans at city hall were filed under Rita's name, though I wouldn't hazard a guess as to why Gene did so. After I did try an embarrassment tactic last Spring, I noticed that google search results on both RIta and Gene's name changed, possibly reflecting the work of reputation.com or another personal PR firm.
DAP January 16, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Eminent Domain may not be so imminent, but such a property taking for public parkland to abate a chronic nuisance and establish a community garden would be bold politics if proposed by a City Council representative who aspires to be Mayor. Of course, all other remedies through zoning and code enforcement would have to be pursued first to make an imminent legal case. But, really, the city should have assigned the property an address (or retained the past address designation) when the condos occupied by the author were subdivided out of the larger parcel.
E Keathley January 16, 2012 at 07:06 PM
You're right, DAP. The new head of codes & zoning has years of such paperwork ahead of her. Routine stuff like this has been dropped for years, and hopefully will be remedied soon. K. Hall's staff has been nothing but helpful & supportive as I've patiently walked this property through all the proscribed steps. The problem with the address is that -no one- seems to know how to get the problem fixed; there are no proscribed steps to assigning an address to a lot with no road access. No process, no progress. Any & all advice welcomed & considered here. From Molly's comment above, I'm going to try the tax office; please let me know if you think this is a good idea or if you have more suggestions.
DAP January 21, 2012 at 04:32 PM
To take direct action to assign an address designation, just determine the address of that vacant lot that fronts Haralson Avenue (evident via Google Maps), and then add 2 digits to designate a new address. Or, if that newly designated address number already exists for a contiguous lot with a home on Haralson Avenue, then take the address of that same vacant frontage lot and add a "one-half or 1/2" to that existing address. Then install a sign or painted rock or something to proclaim the new address and keep telling everyone including the city that number is it. Then repeat, often. This self-designation approach is how rural areas make up their own address consistent with the local address grid, so the Postal Service can find and sort the mail. There y'all go!
DAP January 21, 2012 at 04:39 PM
That vacant frontage lot must be the "road access" and may even have an easement or something. The property owner there could install a fence to prevent dumping access caused by trespassing through that lot. Or, more direction action could occur to install a nice fence or equivalent barrier.
E Keathley December 13, 2012 at 06:14 PM
The land may be sold soon! Another year of chasing the owner to clean up and mow was what it took to get the landowner to realize he needed to sell.

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