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.